It’s been nearly fifteen years since melodic hardcore legends Western Addiction hit the scene and they’ve been tearing it up ever since (well, with a hiatus from 2006 to 2013). They’ve just released Tremulous in 2017, their killer new full length. Staffer Sean Crawford caught up with vocalist and guitarist, Jason Hall, to discuss his writing process, the real life events that inspired the new record, and how Morrissey and Conor Oberst have influenced his music.
I would assume you guys are in California right now, are you guys touring at this time?
No, I’m in San Francisco. We’ve just been doing little weekends of shows so I’m home right now.
Do you have any plans of touring in the near future?
We’re gonna announce some shows pretty soon. We’re gonna do some east coast shows in July and then later in the year some more east coast shows, but we’re just trying to get on anything we can. We played with Cock Sparrer last night which was pretty fun actually. It was crazy! Since I’ve been in the band, I’ve never had more people text me about going to the show or interested in one particular show. I guess I underestimated how many people really love them.
You guys have just come out with your new album, “Tremulous”, which is your first album in over a decade. How long has this album been in the works?
We took a good long break for about seven or eight years. Two songs are from over a decade ago, but just never really quite gelled and, another song called Righteous Lightning is an old song, but I changed to chorus. But for the most part, everything’s pretty new and pretty fresh. We started back up in 2013, but no, it didn’t take thirteen years to write fifteen songs. It’s just that we’re more active. So everything is pretty fresh and pretty new.
So when did you start deliberately writing songs for this release? When did you sit down and decide you were going to put out a full length?
Well, we just started back; we did two EPs and that was around seven songs, so quite a few. And then around 2013 on, I just started writing, writing, writing, not knowing what we would do with them, and eventually we had enough to make a record. We actually have three or four that didn’t make the record too that we’re going to finish up and do an EP with I think. We’re not sure. We ran out of time for songs that would have definitely made it onto the record. So 2015 or so, we started really putting effort into these songs.
When you start writing a song where do you start?
I normally do it one way, and I’ll tell you the way, but I tried to break that on this record. I tried to do things that were purposely uncomfortable, or things that I don’t normally do. The normal process usually is I just have words and song themes or ideas and I keep those all the time. Whether I’m super active in the band or not, I play music pretty much every night; I just fiddle around on the guitar and then I save riffs and things kind of float in space so I can kind of bring them down at the appropriate time. I usually always start with music and it’s almost always a verse first, which is kind of odd because people usually write the chorus first, I think, because they have a really great chorus. I like the verse the most. So usually it’s music, and then I’ll have the theme for that song, and then I’ll have all these words that I bring in to compliment the music. For this record, though, I tried to do things slightly different. Our words aren’t as accessible as other bands; there’s too many words, and they’re not words that people normally use, so I tried to make our choruses a little easier this time, just so it wasn’t as hard for me to sing and so people could actually connect with it a little bit. I was also a bit more focused on vocal melodies this time and that’s what I think is the big difference.
You were talking about how important lyric-writing is in your writing process; what themes were you really trying to focus in on with this new record?
Overall, the record is about anxiety and dread and the state of the world, but most of all nervousness, which is actually where the title comes from. Tremulous means to shake or to quiver nervously or timidly. What I’ll do is I’ll have all these themes for the songs and usually I carry out the theme through a character or a specific incident, but always there’s this underlying theme, and this one happened to be that I was just really anxious during this time. It’s funny: a lot of people ask me about this, but they’re like ‘oh, did you write these songs for the political climate that’s happening right now?’ and I’ll always say, ‘no, I did not but somehow they match up perfectly!’. I’m always thinking about things and I’m always thinking about the world and the environment and people and the wealthy and the poor, but there were some other small things like a bunch of break-ins in our neighborhood. I have a family, and when you have a family, and people are trying to break into the houses, that is so unsettling to me. There were just little incidents like that, that just kind of manifested themselves. But most of it is about global politics and the state of humans.
I think the most powerful lyrical moments on the album would have to be the closer, about a friend of yours who you lost, fairly recently too. Did you use the writing of that song as a method of coping, or was that a difficult process?
Actually, it was one of the quickest songs I ever wrote. Everything in that song is completely true and it all has meaning: every line means something. The song’s about our friend, Dave, and he passed and it was right before we were supposed to go on this big tour in 2015 in Europe. And it was stressful too and I got sick for the first 3 or 4 days of the tour, which you never wanna do. But I wrote it all in one burst because all those lines had been hanging out and building up. It was easy to write in the sense of the material and the content. It was hard in that it’s pretty sad and pretty powerful, but I always saw it as more of a celebration of Dave’s life. A lot of my bandmates knew Dave and they were in bands with him: Ken was in Enemy You with him, Chicken was in Enemy You with Dave, so it was sad but it was more like, ‘look at this cool thing that we made for our friend together’. I felt it to be more powerful than sad.
And that’s really how you want tribute songs to come of as. I thought it was a really powerful way to end the record.
It was also the most unnerving song too, because I can’t sing so well; I can scream, but I can’t sing, so what better song to try doing the most vulnerable thing you could do? Chicken, our original bass player, played on the record - he’s not playing live with us but he played on the record - he really helped shaped that song. So it was all of our buddies who knew Dave really well making this thing together, and that’s what made it special.
So you guys are primarily a hardcore band, but there’s a lot of melody at the core of your songs; so if there’s just two bands you could name as major influences for Western Addiction, what would they be?
The melody is on purpose because I feel like the best bands kind of ride that center line. It’s funny, when we were in Europe, people will just come up to you and tell you about your show whether you wanna hear it or not, especially in Germany. A lot of people were there to see Lagwagon, which makes perfect sense, and it’s fun and happy, and then we’re just screaming our faces off at people. So they would be like, ‘you’re not that melodic,’ and I was like, ‘you know it is tilting a little the other way’. So I wanna be right in the middle where it’s still heavyish, but melodic. In terms of influence, people will ask me this a lot too, and they they always think it’s the usual suspects like Black Flag and Mötorhead and all those bands. Those make perfect sense, but those aren’t the people I really think about when I’m making the songs. I more think about songwriters and people who have a master of vocal melody. The guys in this band don’t want me to say this, but it’s people like Rhett Miller of The Old 97s, Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian, Conor Oberst: people that have a real command of vocal melody, because I feel that’s the secret in songs, and if you get that right then you’ve got something. Paul Simon’s another, Morrissey's another: so not the people you would normally think. I can’t do what they do, because my voice just won’t let me do it, but I try.
What is your favorite Western Addiction song?
It’s funny because you go through loving and hating songs, even old ones. I will say the song I like playing and singing and that people have responded the most to is this song we have called “Honeycreeper” - it’s a brand new song - just because it sounds quite different from most things we’ve done: it has this blastbeat intro and this Fugazi style bridge in it. It’s a fun part in the show too, where I walk out into the crowd, I set my mic stand in the middle of the crowd because I have a long intro which allows me to walk out, and then it’s super fast, it has these nice, big breakdowns, and it’s just pretty dynamic, and I think the title’s kind of good.
“Honeycreeper” and “Taedium” where my two favorite songs on the new record so that’s great to hear! Thanks for talking with me!
Thanks so much! I appreciate it!