Thoughts of Ionesco Peer Clear Into “The Alt. Light”: Track Premiere + Interview

I touched on my minimal history with Detroit trio Thoughts of Ionesco earlier this month when I gushed about "Culture of the Eternal Snake," the debut teaser from Skar Cymbals—their new four-song 12" EP that's due for release in just a few short weeks through Corpse Flower Records—and I don't want to repeat myself, so... peep that, too, if you give a shit.

Right now, I'm psyched to present the EP's lead track, "The Alt. Light [Peer Clear]," which highlights the group's more hectically abrasive side—complete with craggily jazzy chord phrasings, winding pathways of angular riffing, and one hell of a badassedly rock-solid rhythm section. Seriously, if you continue to remain unfamiliar with the band's past efforts, this really is the perfect time to dive in and investigate the beast that is Thoughts of Ionesco. The 15-plus-year absence has in no way lessened the severity or emotion of their drive.

Find the new tune—and its lyrics—below, followed by a brief interview with guitarist/vocalist Sean Madigan Hoen, shedding light (no pun intended) on how this all came together...

I'm trying to see, the frame is shattering
Don't say it's happened before, this is only the beginning
So many ways to leave, when your family is machine
The things that you can't see
The needs you think we feel
There's no doubt it's here

The delusion will not distort my inner peace

I'm trying to see, the frame is shattering
The madness of the screen, it intervenes
Watch it swirl away, has the speed brought you peace?
Or just increased disease
The things you think we feel
There's no doubt it's here

The delusion will not distort my inner peace

No poison for the children
Our medicine is the sun

Peer clear
Your fear is here

Throned in neon
Gilded with golden glitter tears
What you feel
Distortions of what's real

Stare into the light
Don't tell me what you need
You've got no idea what's coming
The disease you've carried willingly

I'm trying to see, the frame is shattering
And you've got blame in your veins
And in your eyes—locate the hate

How about we turn that gaze
To the beast of your shame
Can you stare
Without flinching?

I don't think I've seen this covered elsewhere yet, so I'll open with the blatantly obvious question: how did this reunion come about!? Thoughts of Ionesco being a band that many—myself included—didn't quite "get" until it was too late, the news has certainly surprised and excited listeners...

The short version, from my perspective, is that there were years when I disowned the band completely and thought it was ridiculous that people still mentioned it—I thought it should die, along with many other things from the past. But I got far enough away from it that I was able to approach it almost as a fan. I could see it differently, and maybe even understand the band might still resonate with some people. The idea of doing a show never crossed my mind, though. Thoughts of Ionesco played its last show on my 22nd birthday, in late-1999, and in my life I've moved pretty far away from having anything to do with that sound or the feelings associated with it. We'd been asked a few times, but I never thought twice about it. But... earlier this year, Derek [Grant, drums] and I booked time to record some music in Vermont, where he lives now. He's at a juncture in his life and career where he had some downtime and wanted to revisit his roots. You know, the singer of his band Alkaline Trio [Matt Skiba] is doing Blink-182 right now, so Derek's using the break to get back to the dirt, so to speak—that's how he is. And I've waited years to play with him again—we'd talked about it. So, we were going to make some new music, and slowly the conversation evolved into making some new Thoughts of Ionesco music. Nathan [Miller, bass] had always wanted to do it, so I called him and we set it up. It was extremely impulsive, but for some strange reason it felt right. We simply wanted to play music together again.

The other factor here is that Trump's America and the minions engaged with that kind of psychic disease—that was driving me insane, as I'm sure it's doing to any semi-conscious human with even a loose grip of reality. I found myself inconsolably pissed—a lot of helpless rage. I have no delusions about my anger being particularly meaningful. I just felt the drive to scream and to play that way again. So, we talked about it in February and by April we were recording. It happened fast, which was always the band's way.

Like "Culture of the Eternal Snake" before it, in this track, "The Alt. Light [Peer Clear]," the band's intensity has not dipped, suggesting a similar headspace to the group's past efforts. From the inside perspective, were there any ways in which you were approaching things differently this time around?

I started writing the riffs the night we decided to record, and it surprised me how quickly the sound came back to me. We used a lot of weird, jazzy chords and inserted "wrong" notes to get an unpleasant, unstable sound. It was funny how those chords came back to me—I don't even think there are names for some of them, because they're harmonically wrong. But I found the chords and went and bought the amp I used back then, and the same humbucker pickup. It was hodgepodge gear but that was the sound I had then, so I really tried to find that again.

The one thing I mentioned during the recording was that I really wanted Derek to cut loose. He's such an incredible drummer and musician, and I've always felt he's never been able to really express certain aspects of what he can do on a drum kit—his band Alkaline Trio just doesn't call for it. But he's a jazz fusion nut and he's really into heavy music—he can play anything. When I was a teenager, he was always "the best drummer in Detroit." He has that magic, that thing you can't buy or even acquire through endless practice... a true gift, a total natural. So, I really wanted to take him to the edge just to watch him play, and I think we were getting there... some great drumming on those new songs.

Other than that, the thing that's consciously different is the lyrics. The old lyrics were more investigations into the psyche, kind of making metaphors of things I was going through, but in a very bleak way. My intention with the new lyrics was to direct them toward the light, toward solidarity... they're pissed off, but they're reaching for a depth of spirit. I'm singing from "we" more than "I."

"The Alt. Light" of course brings to mind a play on the phrase "the alt-right," though I don't know that it would be safe to make any assumptions as to its content based on that initial impression.

Yeah, that's a cheap pun. Why not? The fear-driven mutants can look to their right-wing medias, and we'll look to the guiding light...

It's been previously pointed out that Thoughts of Ionesco's earlier works were generally recorded with extremely minimal budgets of $500 or less. Skar Cymbals sounds so killer, though—still raw in just the right ways, but with such a fantastic natural warmth—has that fabled $500 cap finally been topped?

Well, we recorded the new stuff at a very, very simple studio in Burlington. Nothing fancy. Not much outboard gear. In fact, they tore the place down not long after we mixed. So, it was similar to the old days recording at Woodshed in Detroit. We rehearsed two days before and knocked it out. I hadn't screamed like that in 19 years and was laid up in bed the next morning with what felt like a concussion—not sure if it was the muscles in my head being unused to the kind of strain necessary to produce that sound, or if it has something to do with just the volume of the screams rattling around my cranium, but it was wicked. I was almost impressed by my body's response, that you could screw yourself up so badly just by vocalizing.

But, yeah, I think it makes sense that the new recording isn't very slick. No click track, we kept the scratch guitars. Just real live. We always left the mistakes in and used very few mixing effects, so it doesn't have that slick metal and hardcore sound, but more of a punk thing.

With the Skar Cymbals record release show a month away, is it too soon to know what's to come?

We're scheduled for one show, one night. We really need to feel it out after that. I can say that I'm glad to write new music, but our revival of the old stuff comes with some baggage, so we'll see how it feels to perform it...


Pre-order the Skar Cymbals 12"—limited to just 300 copies on red, white, or blue vinyl—through the Corpse Flower Records Bandcamp page or webstore. Orders are slated to ship on or before June 24, 2017—the date of Thoughts of Ionesco's one-off record release show at the Magic Stick in Detroit.