Cloud Mouth

"Emo" as a genre identifier may still conjure one of two divergent, but equally cringe-inducing images -- as either soft and unashamedly cathartic or as abrasive and melodramatic. However, a resurgence of in the emo aesthetic and styling is taking root and does not reflect anything close to Victory Records or My Chemical Romance. While a majority of artists promoting the emo revival borrow from the likes of Mineral and the Promise Ring, others are digging further. Chicago-based Cloud Mouth is one such band, drawing from the Washington, D.C. post-hardcore scene of the mid-1980s and infusing it with updated and revised punk ideals. However, much like the fluid nature of the bands that comprised the early emo scene, Cloud Mouth has decided to call it a day. Just before the group sorts out its final affairs, Punknews contributor Matthew Bentel sat down with John and Matt Harmon to discuss the band's final plans, running a DIY space, and living without regret.

After a little less than four years, you guys are calling it quits. What circumstance prompted this? Matt Harmon: Well…less change, I think, between the three of us. I don’t think it has much to do with the band or the music or the way we approach things, I think its just probably the things the three of us have going on in our lives prompting it more than anything.

John Harmon: Yeah. There was certainly a catalyst and from there I think all of us realized that maybe it was time to start pursuing other things and its amazing how quickly things have changed. I think we agreed that we wanted to see some things through and maybe try some other things and its just amazing how fast its kind of spiraled from there. We’ve all made our own plans and plans to move, and its come…its come fast. But yeah, I think changing life circumstances, and its time to try some new things before we’re worn out.

Matt: Also, another thing is I think the second it was tossed out there that maybe it was time that we agreed- that we were going to do A, B, and C and let’s just…I think we agreed we didn’t want to be one of those bands that started practicing every three months and then playing every, you know- not nearly as often- we didn’t just want to, you know, fizzle out- John: Keep our pace until the end.

Matt: Go out like we started.

Yeah. It kind of reminds me of Sandy Koufax [a renowned pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers] who was an amazing pitcher, but, confronted with the prospect of a debilitating injury, left baseball on top of the world. Matt: [laughs] Yeah, we’re leaving on top of the world.

Still, was that a conscious decision from the band? John: To a certain extent, yes. I mean, we’ve operated the band this way and this way, and lets continue as thus and be done. And I think, to be honest, it took me a minute to come to terms with the fact that was happening because I think when you hold something pretty closely for four years, its hard to realize when you got to let it go. I mean, it’s been weird the way we’ve approached this. We’ve had six months to maybe …slowly die. [laughs] But, in that time, I’ve had some time to realize that maybe this is for the best and this is not a bad thing and that we’re getting to do some cool things as friends and band mates. And, I think, when I approach it rationally I don’t think I’d want to approach it any other way. I mean, like I said, I wouldn’t want to fizzle out and just…start to hate it. It’s… its been cool.

So what are the final plans before the proverbial big sleep? Matt: Uh, I think this all kind of came about…we sat down and- it was weird, we were sitting in here [our apartment] just talking as friends and roommates and it just kind of came up and I think it caught us by surprise a little bit. But once we cooled out and rationally sat down, we thought, "what do we want to do." Since then, we- kind of the beginning of this year we got to play with some really exciting bands, some that we’ve liked for a while. Then, we agreed we were going to record the final songs we’ve been writing. So, in May, we toured out to Philly and recorded with Steve Roche [from Permanent Hearing Damage], which was pretty exciting. We got to go on tour with our best friends this summer, we got to make another trip up to Canada, we’re going to get another record out, and then we’re going to get to fly across the world with each other and play for some people, which I think…I think we were talking about doing that like that the second we were a band. [laughs]

John: We were talking- like what was that, a year and a half ago? We were talking about going to Malaysia then and it just didn’t happen. I think it got put on the back burner for a little bit, but then I think when this came about we were just like, "bullshit, if we want to do this, this is kind of the time to make it happen." It was kind of amazing but I think we set some goals and busted ass over the past six months, and I feel like all of the goals we set for ourselves are kind of coming to light. So, I feel like if you set some shit within reason, its kind of amazing what you can do in a short period of time.

Matt: And we certainly decided that we wanted to do this, this and this, and we definitely had to-

John: Cut some things out.

Matt: Like, we couldn’t continue to play every weekend. And this has been the most frustrating, but we’ve even had to cut back on practice and stuff, which has been hard but we all are at work 50 hours a week in order to make these things happen. But, I can only hope that we are all satisfied with the way this is going down.

John: I’m super stoked. And, like, we have two more Chicago shows, and we’re getting to play with some friends, and then going on this trip. You know, we’ve had to step back a bit playing local shows, and even touring a little bit. Like with that Canadian trip we were going to go further east and we decided to cut that out. And that was a little hard, but then its like, we’re doing this in order to do this. But yeah, I’m pretty satisfied where things are.

What was the impetus for touring Malaysia? Matt: Go weird or go home. [laughs] It’s like- as I’ve been saying, from the beginning of this band it has been a vehicle to, as friends, go make more friends and see places, and I don’t think we’ve ever looked at touring as a-

John: A means to get ahead.

Matt: Yeah. It’s really like a means to an end. It’s our means to travel, it’s our vacation. We’ve worked so hard to get all this. I think we were like, if we get to do this where do we want to go. Europe? I mean, I’ve never been- outside of Canada, I’ve never been outside of the county, so this is unbelievably exciting for me. It was like, we could go to Europe, that would be amazing, and I think to a certain extent bands go to Europe because that’s what makes sense, that’s where you go to break your band. And we thought, "yeah we could do that," but we can always do that. This may be a once in a lifetime chance.

John: I have no doubt in one regard or another we’ll all find ourselves in a musical project one way or another, and it may not do all the same things Cloud Mouth did, but I feel like Europe is an opportunity that will come up again, whereas going to South East Asia is…I don’t know. It’s more of an adventure, more of a cultural experience.

Matt: I think we just want to get our minds blown there.

John: It’s just getting to see part of the world, play for some people who are super stoked on it, and- I don’t know. Beyond that, we’ve had some friends who have gotten a chance to travel over there from Chicago and just based on the stories I’ve heard it sounds amazingly cool and it sounds like they have an incredibly organized punk scene. And it’s… on the other side of the world, you know. It just sounds pretty cool.

Matt:: Basically, we just wanted to go where you couldn’t get any further away. [laughs] Until the space tour.

You mentioned the potentiality of future musical projects. John: you already know what’s coming next?
John: I do. I’m going to play with a band from Grand Rapids, Michigan called Jowls, who we’ve just known through playing music, gotten to be pretty good friends, awesome dudes, and always have the best time when we get to hang out with those guys. So, there was an offer extended to get to go hang with them and it just seemed like a very logical decision for me. Nervous as shit making the move from Chicago, but I’m also excited. It should be cool.

It’s a little smaller than Chicago, and because of that I think that is why I’m a little nervous. Like, I really love Chicago. It’s just going to be a really big transition; I have to find a new job, find a way to make it work up there, but I’m pretty excited to play with those guys. If I can’t play with Matt and Zach, I can’t think of two other boneheads I’d rather get to jam with. [laughs]

It’s interesting you referenced the size. One thing I appreciate about Chicago is how it’s a big city that I can still wrap my arms around. John: Yeah. We never made it to the west coast, and there are still places I haven’t seen. But, it’s been cool getting to tour and see other cities, and- it’s not until you get to the east coast that you start seeing cities comparable [to Chicago], of course. But a lot of them just…I don’t know, Chicago just has good vibes to it. I’m from a small town in the Midwest, and Chicago still has those Midwest vibes to it, even though it’s a big city. So, it’s a big small town, you know?

For sure. And you, Matt? Matt: I, too, am very happy with my time in Chicago, but I also am ready to get out. I feel I’m ready to downsize. Chicago is pretty easy to live in, but… I’m definitely feeling that certain parts of the city are getting to me and I’m ready to maybe get out. I mean, I’m going to Boston with my girlfriend, hopefully get to school out there, and learn how to build furniture.

Pertaining to music, I have spent the last 10 years doing this with John for pretty much the most part.

John: Too many shitty bands. [laughs]

Matt: But, I don’t really foresee a time in my life where I’m not in a band. I mean, every time I’m not playing music I’m a mess, I cry. [laughs] I need that outlet very much, and I’m exited about, for the first time in my life, pursuing another creative outlet, but…I’m always going to have to play music], and its probably always going to be a loud obnoxious punk band. [laughs] John: Boston needs more dude music. [laughs]

Matt: But, I’m terribly excited about trying something new with music. I don’t know if I’m going to go out there and try to get into a band that is going to tour right away. I think I can be very content getting together with some people and practicing once a week and writing music and just taking it like that for the time being. But, again, I’m going to be playing music. I don’t know if it would be very fair to speak for Zach, but that is very apparent for him.

Yeah, in my conversations with him he has always expressed his diverse experiences with playing music, like playing with…jazz side projects? John: Soul. Zach’s first love is soul. And it’s been cool because I think it’s brought a unique aspect to our band, him bringing a different angle.

Matt: He doesn’t play just like a hardcore punk rock drummer, he plays-

John: I think Zach grew up on punk rock, but at a certain point he started realizing he really loved soul music. And I think he is going to continue to find his…like he plays with a soul project right now. And like I said, I don’t think it’s fair for me to speak for him, but I come home and I always hear him messing around with something. Right now, some of the shit he is doing is really interesting, mashing up stuff. He’s putting beats to samples of soul songs, and some of it is very cool.

I don’t quite know if he knows exactly what he is doing, but I think maybe that is good for him because he is going to get to experiment with some new shit, and I think anything Zach winds up doing is going to be pretty interesting. And, I do know he has some opportunities in front of him, I just don’t want to speak for him.

For your final release, Keep Well, should fans expect what they’ve come to know from Cloud Mouth, or are there any notable changes? Matt: I think it will be…probably pretty similar. Definitely tried some new things, and I think that just comes with being in a band together for four years; like, you kind of have to.

John: Yeah, I don’t think anyone wants to write the same record again.

Matt: And that’s kind of been easy for us at one point or another, just out of necessity, because things within the band change. Like, we actually lost a member. It was a year and a half into it, and we almost became a band for the second time. We wrote a lot of music that I think I’m most proud because that creative process from that time was probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever been a part of.

John: Yeah, I really feel like we were hitting on all cylinders after that, after we lost a member. We went on tour and over the course of that tour we became a three-piece, and I think at that point things really started clicking.

Matt: And then after, like, two years of serious touring, we sat down to write again and we just had to try new things. Like, a lot of it wasn’t intentional, it just kind of came out.

In regards to the new record, its just four songs, but- John: I think it’s a logical continuation from our last record. I don’t think you are going to listen to it and think, "oh, this is a different band" or "this is mind-blowingly different." But, I think there are a couple songs on there that would seem out of place two years ago. So, to us, it is just a logical continuation of us trying some new things, and-

Matt: Who knows if, had we continued, [the sound on this record] was just a short version there for a while or maybe it was a rough draft of what was to come. It was frustrating but pretty exciting writing those songs. We tried more melodic stuff, but also on the record is probably, arguably, one of the heaviest songs we ever wrote. I think it meshed fairly well. And, as always, it was all three of us bring things to the table.

John: And, it can get incredibly frustrating trying to piece these songs together because someone will bring an idea, and we’ll build it up and then tear it apart, and you get frustrated starting over. But I don’t even think those songs were finished until we got into the studio with Steve-