Just two years ago, Rochester, New York-based hardcore punk band Such Gold were hitting a huge milestone in their nascent career—the release of their first full-length, Misadventures, after a series of EPs and split releases. At that point, the band had already encountered numerous setbacks that would’ve crushed a lesser band, from lineup changes to hospitalizations. But with Misadventures finally out, it seemed like things were turning around. Cue another series of setbacks: Longtime guitarist/vocalist Skylar Sarkis left the band on the eve of the band’s tour with A Wilhelm Scream, leaving Such Gold to adapt or perish. Frontman Ben Kotin wasn’t phased.
“I’ve played guitar nearly my entire life,” he reveals. “At certain times throughout Such Gold’s past, when a guitar player or a bass player couldn’t make a show, I would step up and fill in. It would be a fun challenge for me to learn their parts.”
So learn them he did, and from June 2013 on, Such Gold have functioned as a four-piece unit with Kotin joining founding member Nate Derby on guitar. When drummer and fellow founding member Devan Bentley left the band earlier this year, Kotin, Derby and bassist/vocalist Jon Markson weren’t phased, immediately recruiting Matt Covey, whose resume includes a five-year stint with metalcore innovators Shai Hulud. “He’s an incredible musician,” Kotin says of Covey. “He understands a lot about music that I don’t, which is very cool.”
It was with this lineup that the band entered the Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado, with legendary producer Bill Stevenson to make The New Sidewalk. Unsurprisingly, it’s a huge leap forward for the band creatively, with the band pushing themselves further and further away from the pop-punk scene they came up in and instead focusing on being an innovative, forward-thinking hardcore punk band even if it brings some tension to the listener —something Stevenson’s old band, Black Flag, knew a thing about, too. Needless to say, the band and producer got along smashingly.
“I’m still very happy by the way Misadventures came out, but it lacked some melody,” Kotin admits. “We were really nervous going in; we didn’t know what to expect in the studio. On The New Sidewalk, we had a lot more time to really do what we want. The atmosphere was a little more relaxed. We got the chance to just hang out with Bill and company every day, shoot the shit about music, listen to his jokes and stories. It was a really comfortable setting.”
Out of that comfort came an album full of discomfort, from the driving dirge of “I Know What I Saw” to the five-minute-long psyche and purpose-examining title track (featuring Kotin’s repeated wails, “I tangled my own head into a web/That pattern was impressive to no one but me”) to the jazzy skate-punk of “Morrison” (a true tale of being harassed by a small-town cop) to the black humor of “Food Court Blues,” in which Kotin amusingly distorts a Killers lyric (“Are we human or are we mall?”) and documents his real struggle with a difficult co-worker at a fast food joint in a mall. “Clearly, working at a mall food court is not a glamorous job, but I don’t mind it,” Kotin says. “I just want to have the respect of my co-workers, which is reasonable, I think.”
Kotin isn’t afraid to tell it like it is nor is he ashamed of his station in life; he is discussing The New Sidewalk’s creation moments after finishing mopping out toilets at a kids’ summer camp, his job for the summer. The struggle is real and relatable, and his lyrics reflect that; his band’s music is the canvas on which he paints, and those canvases keep taking an increasingly interesting shape. Kotin positively attributes that to Markson and Covey.
“Their perspective definitely brought some of the weirdness and maturity for this new record,” he says. “And now that I’m playing guitar, too, I feel like I can do the things I want to hear. After years of Nate and I playing together, we know our styles. It’s easy to get set in your ways, but we all agreed that we wanted the songs to be a little more diverse when compared to each other. We didn’t want to release another record where every song before you hear it, you pretty much already know what’s going to happen.”
One listen to The New Sidewalk and you’ll know the band accomplished their goal. The album twists and turns, divebombing from riff to riff as time signatures switch up almost on a whim. Keys and textures change with an unrelenting dynamic intensity. It’s almost serendipitous that the band recorded with Bill Stevenson, as The New Sidewalk is as challenging—and rewarding—as anything he’s recorded. Kotin shrugs off the praise, before summing up his band’s m.o. in a perfectly succinct, brutally honest way.
“If we thought we were writing worse music than our last record, we would just give up,” Kotin admits. “If people have faith in us as musicians and writers, I think they will enjoy it.”
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