I was quite fond of the debut EP from Boston's Labor Hex (in fact, it was an "honorable mention" on my list of 2018 Year-End Favorites). If you missed out, the group's members have also been associated with the likes of Doomriders, Phantom Glue, Read Yellow, The Red Chord, Wormwood, etc. Their sound is based around an angularly melodic, punk-rocked form of post-hardcore with a catchy sense of Fugazi-ishness and an amped-up sense of abrasive energy.
With an equally exciting new EP, Nothing is Real, out today via Bandcamp, Spotify, and such, hopefully an intelligent record label of even modest repute will soon wake up to the fact that Labor Hex's material is just screamin' for a damn fine 7" release. Until then, stream the full EP below, followed by an interview with Mike Gowell (guitar) and Evan Kenney (vocals)...
It's been about a year-and-a-half since Lost in Calling hit the streets, so beyond the obvious, what has that timeframe looked like for Labor Hex?
Mike: It feels like so much longer than a year-and-a-half. We played live a lot more than we worked on new material—primarily locally (MA, RI, and NY)—but, yeah, new material happened, too. When we recorded Lost in Calling, we were still a very new band. The recording process was really the first time we had a comprehensive listen to each other and our songs. We don't demo, so that last year-and-a-half was us getting familiar and comfortable playing with each other and trying to flesh out our sound. Aside from band stuff, there's been a lot of personal shit—both positive and negative. We're all married with careers, Bev [Chris Bevilacqua, drums] and I are fathers, and Evan just had his first kid literally two weeks ago. Juggling a creative endeavor with real life continues to be more and more challenging.
Nothing is Real is perhaps slightly more raw and windingly angular, but at the same time it retains a melodic undercurrent and fits of explosive energy. What—if anything—do you feel like you approached differently with this batch of compositions?
Mike: I don't think we consciously tried to change our writing in any way. Again, we were such a new band when we did Lost in Calling. A few of the songs on Nothing is Real were already written and being played live when we recorded Lost in Calling. One of the songs—"A.N.T.H.E.M."—I wrote the music for literally over 10 years ago. We all write music and have a lot of ideas, so we have to look at what we come up with and decide whether it's right for this band or not. Some stuff works and some doesn't. If there's any one thing I'm conscious about it is not shying away from melody. I think the initial idea around the band was that we'd be noisier/weirder—maybe more "difficult," so to speak—but that's sort of fallen by the wayside naturally. Not being afraid to write music that's more melodic and more traditional in structure—and that Evan can actually sing over as opposed to just yell or scream—is liberating.
The cover art definitely represents a significant aesthetic shift from the last EP. Is there any story there?
Evan: With our last record, Lost in Calling, the artwork was linear, rigid, and contained an overwhelming presence of space—as if the image was a manifestation of a human being absent of boundaries. It was a subtle nod, I guess, to a band that was starting out, trying to find comfort within their own new sound and within the vibe of the members of the group. For the Nothing is Real album art, we wanted to create a visual that corresponded with the lyrics of the record. When I was creating this, I was thinking about the idea of when you are presented something so beautiful and pure, there is usually a danger or a darkness that can lie underneath. Trust is important, but always with trust, one should err on the side of caution. The purity of the flowers with the knife represents that dichotomy. Nothing is Real as a title goes along with the daily barrage of bullshit and misinformation that we, as a society, have begun to accept and digest. While there can be beauty in this world, there is always danger or darkness... there's always a "catch." It's like when you are about to watch a YouTube video of a beautiful desert sunset or a kid surfing a perfect wave, but there is a 30-second Cialis ad before it that you have to suffer through. That's life, and you've gotta deal with it or let it eat you alive.
Along those lines, I haven't seen lyrics for the new tracks yet, but definitely appreciated the tone and approach of your earlier work, and there are some curious song titles herein. Without going into more detail than you'd prefer, how would you describe where these lyrics are coming from?
Evan: There definitely has been somewhat of a shift with the tone of the lyrics since our last record. While there was a severe personal desperation prevalent in the lyrics on Lost in Calling (which came primarily out of some crazy stuff I was going through at the time), the lyrics for Nothing is Real are thinly veiled in hope, and there is actually some humor—albeit dark—in some of the lines. Naming a song "The Twist" kind of solidifies that notion. In that specific case, the lyrics deal with our hero coming to terms with age and reality, all while still trying to hold on to a rock 'n' roll dream. In the very last line, after the speaker has been moaning and groaning about the pressure of the day-to-day everything, they finally surrender to the mundane in an "Oh, fuck it!" fashion and sing, "So, baby, let's do the twist." There is a taste of everything in here: life, beauty, loss, love, hope, despair. There are lines about gentrification, toxic masculinity, sexual depravity, politics, and our not-so-subtle ambition for fame.
The last EP was tracked with Alec Rodriguez at New Alliance, and for Nothing is Real you went with Alex Garcia-Rivera at Mystic Valley. How did the studio experience differ this time out?
Mike: There were a few factors that went into us deciding to record with Alex at Mystic Valley this time, but the primary driver was just trying something different. Aside from Lost in Calling, Greg [Weeks, bass], Bev, and I recorded with Alec for Wormwood's Mooncurse record, and previous to that I recorded with Alec for the last Phantom Glue album (776). On top of that, we've all known Al (Garcia-Rivera) for a long time, liked his work, and Bev and Evan are both close with him. We didn't go in there giving him any direction in terms of how we wanted it to be different from what we did with Alec at New Alliance. We just went in there and recorded how we always do, which is all playing live together, then I do an additional guitar track for each song, and then solos. Then Evan does his vox. Pretty basic. Efficiency is always a priority.
Me being an old fart who's stuck on the enjoyment of collecting tangible forms of physical media, is Labor Hex any closer to exploring a release of that nature, or are you embracing contemporary forms of consumption in that sense?
Mike: Man, all of us would love to have vinyl, it's very much just a cost thing. No one has approached us about wanting to, and so far we just haven't been able to justify the cost of doing it ourselves. I very much want vinyl just to have a physical representation of the work that we've put in. I'd likely listen to it a couple of times on vinyl, and then it goes on the shelf. Same with all my bands. If I want to revisit a song after that, I'll listen to it online. So, yes, we all want vinyl, but so far we don't have anything in the works.
The Boston area has always had an amazing scene, and just this year alone I've raved about The Northern Skulls, Test Meat, and—a little outside of Boston—Wire Lines, who you have a couple of shows lined up with early next year. What are some other new-ish bands from out that way that listeners should look into?
Mike: We're very lucky to be constantly surrounded by great musicians and bands that inspire us. I think more than anything it's our friends and peers that we're looking to get that nod of approval from. We were fortunate enough to do the Wear Your Wounds Boston date a few months back, and then last month one of the Cave In shows here. The bands you mentioned we love and are friends with (we're playing with Wire Lines in February). We also have a couple of shows in January with Nomad Stones (Adam and J.R. from Cave In's freak-rock band), Chrome Over Brass (which is Alex Garcia-Rivera's solo drum experience, which is incredible), and Black Beach (who are awesome and one of my current favorites). Additionally, there's a new band made up of old friends/bandmates called Real Beaut, who should have some stuff out soon. There's also Bedtimemagic, Leopard Print Taser, GOG (Matt from Phantom Glue's new death metal band), and Blood Built Empire. That's just off the top of my head, there are so many good bands it's hard to keep up.