Hostage Calm

It's all about bailing out on hardcore, living off ridiculous guarantees, and making music videos for Hostage Calm these days… All, of course, while dipping in and out of restaurant jobs in-between tours to make ends meet, as Punknews interviewer Faye Turnbull found out while sitting down with frontman Chris Martin and bassist Tim Casey, for a lengthy chat during their first visit to the UK ahead of their recent London show.

Can you tell me a bit about Hostage Calm? Chris Martin: Well, we’re from the US, we’re on tour in the UK right now and we’re about to go to Europe for the first time, we’re a five-piece band.
Tim Casey: We aspire to rock, generally.
Chris: Everyone in Hostage Calm is either vegetarian or vegan. Hostage Calm prefers…
Tim: The finest, generally. Although, we’re all low on cash, so the finest is tough to come by. We try to provide the finest, but we can’t always get the finest, because it’s pricey.
Chris: I think that’s basically all you need to know about Hostage Calm.

So, this is your first time over, did you have any expectations? Tim: We don’t have a record out over here, we’re not from the UK, we don’t know what it’s like to be from the UK, and in America, we did a lot of grassroots-style, booking our own tours, playing shows and working our way up, so we didn’t have many expectations. We thought we’d do some groundwork in a different part of the world, as exciting as that is, so we’re really psyched, just the prospect of coming over here with no expectations was an exciting thing. When you’re little you hear about bands going to Europe and it’s like, "Woah!" It’s a serious thing, so it’s really been an aspiration in the back of our bands from a really young age. Just the idea seems so far off and it’s just really surreal and exciting to be here now, definitely.

There’s talk on the Internet that since this is your and Daylight’s first tour over here that your guarantee is really high, how do you feel about that? Chris: I think that people have to realize that, for one, people ask to book you over and you send them emails asking how it’s going, but you don’t really know specifics. Most of us probably don’t even know the current conversion rates and stuff like that, plus the amount of fixed costs that goes into touring over here. I know people are like, "You should just say screw it and take a huge financial loss," but we’re touring non-stop in the US and we’re all fucking poor. [laughs] We can’t really afford to.
Tim: I don’t know how it usually is, but the way that this tour specifically worked, we have no deliberation or say in the guarantee, nor do we get any money from the door guarantee. In the grand scheme of things, it’s driver, gas, van rental.
Chris: There’s a lot of costs that go along with touring over here. It’s something we haven’t experienced before, because in the US, we own our own van, we drive our own van, so we don’t have to pay for all those things, so they take care of all the cost stuff. I’m sorry if people think the guarantee is high and for people who’ve put on the shows, we appreciate it, and I’m sure people will have negotiated different rates, but I don’t think any of the bands had anything to do that. We’ve always sold our merch for really cheap and tried to give some away for free, and never tried to rip people off, and if people feel that way, then we’re definitely sorry, because it’s not what we try to do. We came over here to try and play music with no expectation of making money. No one in this band is making any money off this tour or trying to.
Tim: In fact, no one in this band is probably not losing any money.
Chris: If you’re looking for a business to make money in, it’s not playing punk music and we do it, because we love it.

So, this is a full-time thing for you? Do you not have jobs in-between tours? Tim: We try to find work if we’re at home for more than a week or so, some people are in and out of restaurants, I have a waiting job.
Chris: I pretty much just get jobs when I can and work as many hours as I can in-between, but you never know when you’re going to get fired, so we all work. Nobody in this band can live off the band or something like that. We all work, no one in this band can live off the band, and we pretty much work to help us to tour, because that’s what we love, we don’t really love our jobs.

Is it not hard finding jobs in-between tours? You make it sound really easy. Tim: Absolutely.
Chris: Yeah, you get fired all the time - well, not much fired, but they can’t really schedule you if you’re going to be fucking gone for a month-and-a-half, back for two-weeks, then gone for a month again. [laughs] I don’t blame them, it just doesn’t work out.

You probably get this all the time, but on your new self-titled record, you changed your sound pretty drastically, from hardcore punk to essentially a really poppy vibe, why was that? Chris: It wasn’t really like, "Alright, fuck all this, we’re going to do something else." It’s more of just what we’ve grown into. Hardcore was something that was really comfortable for us when we were first starting and we were constantly trying to be as creative as we could within the confines of hardcore and we thought that was as far as we could go. There’s not sort of rules in hardcore, but there’s a lot of common conventions and if you’re sticking to the same sort of tempos and sound structures and stuff like that, there’s only so much that we felt we could do and that’s what we accomplished on Lens, but we wanted to do something that was beyond that. So, we thought we’d just write a record that goes beyond a certain genre and just write songs where we don’t have to abide by certain conventions. I grew up thinking music has to be directly aggressive and it has to be fast, those are all aesthetic things about music that are not central to true music. If your song is really good, you should be able to play it at any tempo in any style, if you can take your song and write it in a different song, and it still sounds good, then you have a true song. If it only works because you’re playing it fast and you go to a breakdown, then I think you end up relying on the aesthetics, communicating through screaming hard, instead of trying to write a melody that conveys emotion. It’s not to knock it, but it’s something that we eventually became more focus on than just the musical creativity and not-so much the aesthetic creativity of time changes and things like that.
Tim: I think that something is sort of derived from the style change, like we have denounced hardcore or rejected it. Really, hardcore is something that we all still love, but we also grew up on The Beatles and sweet classic pop stuff.
Chris: We’ve also been playing in different bands and I remember when we looked at Lens. We did Lens, that was the record we wanted and there’s no reason why we should just do it again. We just wanted to accomplish something different.

I read an interview with you, and you said that you moved away from the hardcore punk sound because of your, "general disappointment with the nature of the current hardcore-punk scene in America", what did you mean by that? Chris: I think there’s a level of, like, stagnation. Like the sound, if you’re going to rely on limitations on what you can do, the tempos you play, sticking with power chords - things like that, you’re really going to limit yourself on where you can take your band musically. The other thing is, even on our demo and stuff like that, we felt like we thought we should try play more punk/indie type shows, where our message can we heard and where kids didn’t just want to mosh to it and stuff like that.
Tim: It can be controversial to say that hardcore in 2011 is a really trend-driven movement, you know what I mean? Like Have Heart and Verse is happening, then a year later, the Trash Talk thing is happening, and not to discredit any of those bands that legitimately play that style of music and play it the way they want, but we were always a band that wasn’t always hot at that minute and we knew that, and I think just saying, ‘Fuck it, we’re going to play the record it want.’ There’s no one to cater to, so what’s that point of that?
Chris: In my opinion, I think there is definitely less meaningful hardcore right now than there was a couple of years ago.

I got one of my friends to listen to the self-titled, and he said the intro of "Wither On The Vine" sounds like a Ricky Martin song, how do you feel about that? Tim: I’ll take it.
Chris: Honestly, that part is probably the most controversial part of the record and why we like it so much. I think what a lot of people see as continuity on a record, is what we should see as allegiance to not really experimenting, if that makes any sense.
Tim: Not to say that you must experiment.
Chris: I think that bands that we like, like The Clash or Morrissey or whatever, they put out songs and records that all sound completely different from each other and delve into personality. A lot of the songs were written when I was working in Guatemala, so at some point, you want the song to speak at what you’re talking about. I think that song, at that point, is something that we all wanted to embrace and it did that, and it was just so fucking everything. [laughs] To like that part, respect. We like it.

It seems that people have embraced the change. Chris: Yeah, in the US. It was interesting to see, because we weren’t really an established band, but we were definitely known a little bit on the east coast, so it was cool to see that a lot of people stuck by us and we gained a lot more people, from touring, being on Run For Cover, putting out a record that I guess did well, whatever, but we were pretty happy.
Tim: We thought people were going to fucking hate it and thought five of our close friends would buy it and be friends of it, and everyone else in the world would be, "Fuck them!" But it wasn’t the case, thankfully. We’re all really grateful that it did well in the States.
Chris: I remember seeing someone say we were sell-outs or something like that, and then I thought of my bank account and how unbelievably true that is, but secondly, I thought that it would be selling out to write a hardcore record to please other people. We spent hours and hours and hours slaving away on little things on that record, and then I was like, "You realize we just spent 10-hours on something that people are probably going to fucking hate?"
Tim: That drove us when we were recording that record, it was exciting for us a band.

As happy as you say you are with Lens, you don’t seem to play that many songs off it live anymore, do you? Chris: Sometimes we play some, but we played that a lot for like two-years and we were just ready to play some other shit. I’m sure in the future we’ll play more Lens stuff, but the self-titled is still pretty new, so we’re trying to play that. We still all really like Lens, I love that record and I love our demo, there’s nothing that we’ve done that I look back on with any sort of shame.

Your lyrics are pretty wordy, I’ve found that I can listen to your songs hundreds of times, but I actually have to go back and read the lyrics for them to stick. Tim: Musically, Chris and I are music nerds, and a lot of things that we get really excited about are cerebral punk songs that said something, and I don’t want to say that the standards are low, they aren’t, but that’s the stuff I like, the stuff that makes you think and that’s thought-provoking or says something or raises a question.
Chris: Yeah, it’s just the way we thought we could communicate what we say. I think a lot of the time, with choruses and stuff like that, a lot of bands use a really commercial approach - not in the sense of "money commercial," but in the sense of almost like a marketable chorus - you remember the lyrics, which aren’t worth remembering, but you remember them. We tried to make something that was worth remembering and that’s what we were focusing on. All our shit has always been kind of wordy.
Tim: We’ve generally been long-winded - as this interview will show. [laughs]

Do you sit there with a thesaurus or are you naturally just really elaborate with words? Tim: Actually, the lyrics for that record, we did spend a lot of time revising and passing around them for a while, and by the end of it, we were all really pleased and excited by it. I don’t know, it’s something I haven’t really thought that much into, just because a lot of the bands I like have… Not necessarily long-winded, but lyrics that sort of make you think and read about it, and sort of say, "What?" There’s literary value there.
Chris: A lot of writing lyrics is what you choose to leave out - songs that don’t really explain a lot, that only hit a couple of points - we were trying to say as much as we could without saying too much.

What would you say your songs are generally about? Chris: A lot of them touch on social and political issues, like "Rebel Fatigues" touches on social revolution and what it’s like being a person living in a place that’s going through a revolution or civil war. The song "Ballots/Stones", that song is about the gay marriage struggle in the US. Then there’s "Young Professionals" which is just about being 23 and seeing people in the town you grew up in, standing there in a suit and they look just totally overwhelmed of this role where they’ve just graduated college and it just looks like it doesn’t even fit them, and it’s sort of a weird place, it’s sort of just about being scared. There’s not like one thing that we try to write about, but if there is a theme, it’s just our political views and how it feels to be us in 2011. I always remember Crime in Stereo’s The Troubled Stateside as how it felt being a teenager in the Bush years in America, that’s the way it felt to me, it’s such a clever album. Each song is about something different, but those are some ideas.

So, you’d call yourself as a political band? Chris: Yeah, to a degree.
Tim: In the way that we’re politically minded people a lot of the time, we’re a band that deals with things that happen on a daily basis, which happen to be political and social issues.
Chris: Most of the punk that we grew up on was political, like Operation Ivy. Operation Ivy songs are extremely long and they say so many different things, and you want to read every word.
Tim: I like feeling that there’s something greater at play than your catchy melody, something you can put your teeth into.
Chris: Trying to put a catchy melody to something that you feel is important, that’s almost in a task in itself. It’d almost be easier if it was about love or something like that, but it’s kind of fun having the challenge of something like that and making it appealing. I feel like there’s not a lot of political music coming out of the US today.

It seems like you’re in this new little clique of bands, like those on Run For Cover/No Sleep/etc., how do you feel about that? Chris: I personally feel like it’s fucking great. I never really thought about it, but I was talking to Evan from Into It. Over It. and said it was the "gig life" group of people, it’s just a bunch of people who have dedicated their lives to play music. They live on nothing, they have nothing and they just play music. I feel like it’s really cool, because it’s not based on a genre. It’s not like they’re a bunch of hardcore bands or whatever, they each have their own thing that are able to be apart of this collective group that goes across the spectrum of sounds and interests, so we’re pretty stoked on that. It’s fun to go on tour with those bands, because you’re playing to new people, it’s awesome. Whereas, if we tour with a bunch of hardcore bands in a row, it’s hard for us to get our sound out there, you know what I mean? We’d have a great time and the shows wouldn’t do bad, but I would feel like we weren’t really making a dent in regards to what we want to talk about.
Tim: Yeah, we want to make a record where not just hardcore kids can like, and all those bands being so widely varied and everyone is friends, or associated with each other one way of another, it’s a nice opportunity to play to whoever.

What’s next for Hostage Calm after this tour? Tim: We’re just going to hit the road. We’ve finished tracking for a single and we have a video coming out as well. We’re really just aspiring to tour as hard as possible for the next year-and-a-half at least, and hopefully more.
Chris: The video was for "War On A Feeling", we played a show and just shot some footage.
Tim: It was a free show, near our home and it was just a really cool opportunity to give back, and it was so much fun. It was just great.
Chris: It’s not like we’re trying to get on fucking MTV, it just gives people a visual representation of the band too, because we’ve never been focused on that.
Tim: There’s plenty to say, like, "Oh, they’ve bailed on hardcore and now they’re making videos…" but I think it’ll be a nice thing. It’s just a fun project really, to keep us busy when we’re not on tour for the next week.
Chris: It’s really a cool thing when you’re in a band, it’s like, "Fuck yeah, why wouldn’t we?" We done it with our friend Dean who was in this hardcore band called Fired Up in the US.

So, who else should we be listening to? Chris: From our home state, you’ve got, The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die.
Tim: Make Do and Mend has been relocated to the Greater Boston area.
Chris: Balance and Composure, Transit, all the Run For Cover bands. Tigers Jaw, La Dispute, Touche Amore, Sacred Love. I really like the newest Transit LP, Keep This To Yourself.
Tim: The World is a Beautiful Place… has got something going on that no-one’s really done before, so give it a shot.

Is there anything else you want to say before we finish? Chris: Shout outs to everyone in the States and thanks to everyone who’s come out to the shows so far on this tour, and thanks for doing this interview.