There is no question that the musical direction of Ceremony’s sound has been the initial topic of many conversations throughout their long tenure as a band. After releasing critically acclaimed albums like Violence, Violence (2006) and Still Nothing Moves You (2008), the California-based punk quintet was praised for their intensified and furious trash-driven hardcore approach. While their third studio effort, Rohnert Park (2010), leaned more toward an ’80s punk rock avenue that walked in the similar footsteps of iconic influences like Negative Approach, Black Flag and The Circle Jerks.
Once the group singed to Matador Records in 2012, Ceremony embarked on a new interesting journey on their next record, Zoo, which turned a lot of heads in the hardcore community, as the band parted ways with their trashing delivery. Fast forward to the release of their fifth studio full-length, The L-Shaped Man, which not only premiered tracks like “The Separation,” “The Understanding” and “Your Life In France,” but also introduced listeners to a gripping post-punk delivery that critics and fans alike have drawn comparisons to Joy Division, Interpol and Echo And The Bunnymen. This record truly represents the band’s current musical endeavors.
Right before Ceremony started their North American summer tour in support of The L-Shaped Man, I had the chance to speak with guitarist Anthony Anzaldo about the band’s music progression since their 2012 Matador Records debut full-length, Zoo, as well as the inspiration and writing process of The L-Shaped Man. Anzaldo also shared his thoughts on Ceremony’s new sound being compared to Joy Division, and his curiosity on how fans will react to hearing their new material live on this upcoming tour.
First off, I’d like to say congrats on releasing The L-Shaped Man last week. Considering that a few years have passed you released Zoo, how do you think the band has evolved over time since then?
Well, you know, like you said, it’s been three years and we’ve played so many shows off that record [Zoo], and we’ve been introduced to this new world; being on Matador Records, and playing to a lot of new people. So, with every new record, there is going to be new crowds and kind of a whole new scene. Being a band that never wants to do the same thing twice, it was just sort of a natural progression.
As a longtime fan of Ceremony, I have noticed in their own way each full-length you’ve release is always different than the last. To a certain extent, would you say that The L-Shaped Man has established the musical direction of where you are now, and where you might see yourself moving forward?
It’s really hard to say what will be the next thing, you know? There’s never really a conversation, or a conscious effort for any of our records to sound like they do. We just get together, and get down three, four or five songs and kind of use the style of those songs as reference for the rest of the record. I don’t think we’re going to go backwards; I don’t think we’re going to make another “trash” record or anything of that nature. Whatever we do next will be on the path that we’re on.
I think it would be funny to make a record that sounds so much in line with The L-Shaped Man. Because you can imagine, every interview question that we’ve got in the last six years, the main topic in that conversation is the “change in our sound,” and I would be curious to do an interview after we put out a record that sounds exactly the same as the last record before that (laughs). But who knows what the next thing might sound like.
I do think that every record is sort of a natural progression, so whatever we do… If you’re still paying attention to Ceremony, then I think that it will make sense.
Do you also think releasing both The L-Shaped Man and Zoo on Matador Records made some sort of influence on your sound at all?
I think that it had nothing to do with sound. We wrote about half of this new record before Matador even approached us. So “that sound” for our last record was already along that path. It would have been stupid of us to try to make a record that we did based on the label that we were on, you know? I think we probably would have been having an easier time if we sounded more like the Rohnert Park record. It would be a more easier pill to swallow.
It would have been really, really silly of us or for anyone to make an album or a sound or have the record label that they’re on influence their sound. They’re just putting out the record, and they’re fronting the money for us to play and to record. To have them influence the direction of the band that we’ve been doing for 10 years, that is something that none of us would rather do, or we would then just do the record ourselves. So none—we’ve been fortunate enough to have people back us and are able to reach a wide audience.
What would you say was the inspiration or story behind naming this record, The L-Shaped Man? Tell me a little bit about the writing process of the record once this idea came to life.
It was kind of a dark time for [vocalist] Ross Farrar and for the band. He was going through some pretty severe, personalized issues, and dealing with a lot of loss. It was definitely a prominent theme of the record—dealing with loss, and breaking up with somebody that was really close to you.
As far as the writing process, it was pretty similar to anything that we’ve done. We sort of, going into it, like I said before, could try to jam out some stuff. Once we start hearing something that sounds good to us, we start leaning toward that. This record was a little different in terms of… This was kind of the first record where most of the songs were written when we were still all in the studio, in our practice studio with no ideas, and we would just messed around with stuff until we found something that we were into.
Before it would be like, I would come in with a riff or a skeleton of a song, everyone would help piece it together. But that didn’t happen with this record—it was much more of a collective of us just… I am not a big fan of the word “jamming” (laughs) but that’s really what it was. We were in the studio and just kind of messed around, and after an hour, we hopefully had something that we thought was good enough to release.
While I have heard many comparisons to post-punk bands like Joy Division and Interpol on this record, would you consider them as major musical influences on The L-Shaped Man?
Well, you know, our name is Ceremony, which is a Joy Division song. It would obviously be disingenuous of us to say that Joy Division hasn’t had an influence for us as an entire band. But never once were the words “Joy Division” uttered while we were making these songs. I think that stylistically, I think we touched what did a little bit on The L-Shaped Man on Zoo with songs like “Repeating The Circle” and “Video,” and I think that was a style that we were really comfortable with. So, we were able to get into this groove of that style of songwriting very quickly.
Also, Joy Division is the most influential post-punk band ever, so it is very easy for people to just throw a headline on, you know? For me, I was way more influenced at this point in my life by Pornography-era The Cure, The Chameleons and Echo & The Bunnymen, The Stone Roses, more than I am Joy Division. To me, that’s where a lot of influence from that era came into this record.
But I can understand why someone would hear and think Joy Division in Ross. Ross has a very tonal, monotone delivery just like [Joy Division vocalist] Ian Curtis, and like I said, they’re kind of like the blueprint, gateway post-punk band for a lot of people, so I think it’s easy for people to say that we sound like we’re reminiscent of Joy Division because that’s one of the only familiar post-punk bands that they’re the most familiar with.
Just from your perspective, ever since you started playing songs off of The L-Shaped Man live, did you ever feel like there was some sort of disinterest in the crowd at first? Or it seemed like a lot of fans have been as equally excited about hearing your new material just as much as they would want to hear songs from older records like Violence, Violence or Rohnert Park?
Yeah, our record release show for The L-Shaped Man was the first time we ever played the songs since they’ve been released. We played them at SXSW, and when we played a show in New York, we announced that we were only doing new songs, and we did a similar thing in San Francisco.
There wasn’t really any pressure because nobody has heard them. It’s not like if they don’t react to them, or if they don’t sing-along or move around that is expected because they are just listening; it’s a new thing. Now, it’s time where we are more curious to see how people react, because the material is out there.
But at first, there was only [one] kind of reaction to appropriately have, and that was just to stand there and absorb the material.
Your upcoming U.S. tour will be going to well into the end of the July, so it looks like you’re going to be having another eventful summer filled with traveling across the country. Outside of juggling your personal schedules, would you say the summer is usually the best time of year for you guys to get together and tour extensively?
In that regard, I would say so. In other ways, it’s probably the toughest time to tour because that is when most bands tour. So you’re just competing for a lot of holes in venues, and a lot of shows, and having a lot of people to pick which shows that week they want to go to. But for us, we have some members who are still in school, so it makes the most sense for us.
On that note, what else is the rest of the year looking like for Ceremony?
We have the U.S. tour this summer, and we’re going to Europe in August. Hopefully, we’ll be able to make it out to Australia or Japan by the end of the year. We’ll probably do another East Coast/West Coast short run in the fall hopefully, but it’s all kind of tentative. We really put out this record, and we want to get it out there as much as possible.
Ceremony will be playing at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan on July 1. The L-Shaped Man is available now on Matador Records. For more information, go to ceremonyhc.com.