The sound of Chattanooga, TN's Lacing bears all the staples of textbook shoegaze in terms of a swirling mass of effects; fuzzed-out chords; cascading drones; and somber, somewhat monotone singing buried in the mix. However, on their forthcoming sophomore full-length, Without (coming next week via Elder Magick Records and Handstand Records: pre-order on either CD or LP), the quartet is pulling from a much deeper pool of influences—be they post-punk, grunge, hardcore, or beyond. On top of that, the album's impressively clear and textured recording really allows the details to break through and leave a mark.
Not being the biggest shoegaze fan on Earth, this all adds up to one of the most diverse and exciting albums I've ever encountered from the genre, and "Regret" is an absolutely perfect example of why. Stream the track below, followed by an interview with the entire band:
Without was actually my first exposure to Lacing, and I'm still familiarizing myself with your discography, but I think what drew me in the most was the fact that you're more than just a "shoegaze" band. While that's probably the dominant influence/outcome, to my ears—especially on the new album—the songwriting achieves such a great balance between elements that are more drawn out and atmospheric/abstract and passages that are more structured and tangible/memorable. This is especially noticeable in tracks like "Regret," which is so much faster and more immediate in attack. Do you feel like the contrasts in your work have become more evident and effective through this material?
Joe D.: In general, Without represents us better than Bummer did. Our goal is to have each record bring more to the table than the one before. We used a little bit of the same gear from Bummer, but a lot of it changed—including our main fuzz pedals and reverbs. Then we added even more pedals and some mellotron samples using a keyboard. I think a lot of first albums are like Bummer—you get a snapshot of what you sounded like at that one time, and then react to it with the next album.
Joe M.: We try to let these things come together as naturally as possible, always paying attention to what's best for the song. We are constantly experimenting with our instruments and gear, coming up with ways of creating more extreme sonic textures and atmospheres.
Some of the press materials for the album mention that the lyrics were at least in part inspired by some pretty specific familial experiences, but I really appreciate the fact that aside from minor imagery here and there, most of the content is approached in such a way that listeners are able to develop their own relationship to the material. I'm assuming that was very much on purpose, so I'd be curious to hear more about your approach to the lyrics and how you express certain stories/emotions without being hyper-precise.
Joe D.: My lyrical approach varies by song. Typically, whenever possible, I write parts and lyrics for them together. So, the general tone of the music is something I try to either bend the lyrics to, or vice versa. On the other hand, sometimes I don't finish the lyrics until all the music is done. If I bring in something that goes too overboard, they'll let me know. For example, the lyrics to "Swirl" are about some time I had to spend in a mental health facility during a very bad era of my life. Originally, there was a lyric in there having to do with pills that was cut because the rest of the band told me it sounded like we were glorifying this thing that happened to me. I tend to write lyrics that deal with depressing topics, but I don't ever mean to make it seem like what I went through was cool.
I believe this may have been your first time working with Mikey Allred at Dark Art Audio in Nashville, TN. What led you there and how did these sessions differ from your past recording experiences with Lacing?
Jerry: Mikey is someone that we've known for years. My old band played with his quite a bit. We ended up doing a show with his band (Holy Mountain Top Removers) and he offered to record us. We checked out some other albums he has recorded and were blown away. He really knows how to keep clarity in a heavy/noisy recording. We decided to go to him for this record and were super happy with the studio experience and the final product. I could easily see us going to him again.
Our tape releases were actually done by our bassist, Joe Micolo. Our first album, Bummer, was recorded at Wild Chorus in Knoxville. It was done live, but we had a ton of bleed-over in the recording, hence we couldn't do all the overdubs and experimentation we wanted. We love the album, but we felt it didn't really reflect us as a live band. Without, with Mikey's help, really represents us more as a band.
Sonically, it feels like the end result for Without is clearer and more textured, while retaining the sheer density of your past efforts. Was there anything in particular that you were trying to achieve differently this time around with regard to the tones, mix, etc.?
Robert: Part of it was we were a little self-conscious about becoming "the heavy shoegaze band." But, at the same time, one of the most interesting things about the genre is how it often tests the limits of what "heavy" really means. You can have a passage that's been calmly and gently fuzzed-out into oblivion, and then follow it up with something airy and sparse that just crushes your guts out. So, we were making a lot of choices that explored both techniques. It also didn't hurt that we're all huge pedalheads, along with Mikey.
Joe D.: We were going for a louder, clearer mix than Bummer. Mikey definitely helped us achieve that. We knew we wanted to incorporate some weirder stuff into it. We wanted the heavy parts to sound even heavier and the pretty parts to be super lush.
There are a decent amount of noisy experimental interludes throughout the album, and I learned in an older interview that some of you have backgrounds in the noise scene. Would you say that those ideas or influences are starting to bleed into your work a bit more over time?
Joe D.: I feel like those influences have been present since the beginning of Lacing, which itself was initially an extension of the collaborative sets that Jerry and I did with our noise projects, Rurnt (Jerry) and Millipede. Those live sets were insanely loud. This vibe certainly carries over to the Lacing live sets as well. On record, we had the entire B-side of Honey Glow as one long drone piece that was done in post-production. The second half of Bummer also features a drone piece that Rob created. I think our tendency is to be really unhinged and noisy, and the fact that you don't hear it in songs like "Bruise" or "Wound" is more a reflection of us using restraint. One thing I always thought was funny is that from day one we got compared to the band Nothing (who I really like, by the way). I always thought they were a lot more pop than us. At their heaviest on some Tired of Tomorrow tracks, they veer into sort of like Nirvana-type territory. For us at our heaviest, I feel like we're trying to evoke, like... uhhh, His Hero is Gone or Corrupted with stuff like "Regret" and "Starless" [laughs], or us using the same format as Black Flag's My War for Bummer (i.e. one side of rippers and the other side of heavier, more repetitive stuff).
Along those same lines, "92" was released last month as an EP that includes five remixes ranging from glitchy electronics and harsh noise flirtations to somber ambient washes and even some beat-driven verve. Talk about how that EP took shape.
Jerry: We're all closer to 40 than 20, so we remember back in high school when bands would drop CD singles with all kinds of bonus tracks, and a lot of them were remixes. We always thought that would be a fun thing to do. Our friend Luna actually did a remix of our first release, Honey Glow (available on the digital version of Bummer), and we fell in love with the results. So, we definitely had to do it again with the "92" single.
As far as selection goes, we just reached out to friends and members of the band. The "JJM3 Remix" is our bassist, Joe Micolo, and the "Rurnt Remix" is me. We've known Travis Morgan, who did the "92 Dream Team Remix," for quite a while due to the regional noise scene. The "Eyes Behind the Veil Remix" was done by our friend Michael Tenzor, who's half of one of our favorite bands/split tape partners, Lazy Legs, so it just made sense to ask him.
Lacing's prior full-length was released by Elder Magick Records, who's also handling the vinyl for Without, so how did Handstand Records swoop in to handle the CD pressing?
Joe D.: Will Cole from Handstand was a big supporter of us during the Bummer era. He reached out and offered at one point to do a cassette version of either that album or whatever we were doing next, I can't recall at the moment. He and Jerry ended up working out an arrangement to do the CD version of Without. I like CDs a lot, actually, and wanted it to come out on that format along with the vinyl, because we had done it with Bummer through Saw Her Ghost Records doing the CD version of that album, and we thought it was cool.
I'm actually a CD guy, too, so beyond just being psyched that the album was being released on CD at all, I was blown away that there's actually a CD bonus track ("Rift," which is also one of my favorite songs on the album). If anything, I feel like CD buyers are borderline punished these days, so what brought about the decision to include a bonus track on the CD version?
Joe M.: Listening to an album on CD is a somewhat nostalgic thing for me, and I remember the excitement I would feel when discovering a secret/unlisted track at the end of one. When we decided that "Rift" didn't quite fit right on the vinyl version, I suggested the idea of having it as a secret track on only the CD. We then expanded the idea to include this song on the digital download as well.
In an interview from earlier this year, you all mentioned Stella Luna's Stargazer as sort of an unsung classic of shoegaze. Not being all that much of a shoegazehead myself, but always curious to seek out more—especially when it comes to the lesser-known and underrated—what are some other releases of that nature that you all would recommend Lacing fans to look into?
Joe D.: I could probably go on about this at length. If you wanna hear some great older stuff that hasn't been repped a lot yet, I would recommend the Czech shoegaze band Ecstasy of St. Theresa's album Susurrate and their Pigment EP. Those came out in the early-'90s and you can tell they loved My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything, because their records sound like a somewhat noisier version of that style. They changed their sound pretty radically after this and it just isn't for me, as they went kind of into trip-hop territory. I personally feel that style isn't something they were as good at, even though I really like Portishead and Massive Attack, etc. Another band that I'd rep hard would be The Emerald Down. Their LP called Scream the Sound is from the same era as the Stella Luna EP. It was primarily Rebecca Basye's band. She is an incredible musician and songwriter that I never see getting the kind of props she deserves.
Jerry: I'm gonna recommend any release by White Cascade. One of the few bands that seems to remember that the original shoegazers weren't afraid to experiment with programmed beats and rhythms.
Joe M.: I really dig Grivo's album Elude. The songs are slow and plodding, almost ominous, but with very pretty atmospheric guitar layers.
Robert: Definitely check out Running Back by Weed. If you've managed to suss out the Dinosaur Jr. influence in Lacing and want more music in a similar vein, you'll love this record. Weed isn't around anymore, but some of the members have gone on to form a band called Hotline TNT that absolutely rips.