Courtesy of WTF Publicity

Ready & Responsible – Observe the 93rd

Eternalism, the new album from Observe the 93rd, drops two weeks from today. We hope you’re preparing yourself for the heavy, conceptual ,emo universe it is about to introduce to you, because these are the songs that are proving their ‘Best Rock Band’ title that the voters of the Central Pennsylvania Music Awards granted them.

Observe the 93rd is an experience from start to finish. Their albums create vast soundscapes that need to be heard in order to truly understand. The band’s third record, an eeriness to everything, dropped in July of 2022 and the guys were quick to begin working on multiple new projects, including their fourth LP, Eternalism.

This is a band that can’t be pinned down to a genre or pigeon-holed into a scene. They simply are a cut above the rest. Their music video for “Go Ahead” dropped last month and it’s an ominous piece that evokes a plethora of emotions. The style is what strikes you the most – feeling gothic and almost vaguely occult as vocalist Derek Henry drags a coffin through a barren field. Any fan of rock or alternative music should certainly check it out and dive into the band. 

We had the incredible chance to sit down with Henry to discuss everything from the band’s songwriting technique and their rise in popularity to the DIY community and much more.

Starting off, since this is the first time The Aquarian is covering Observe The 93rd, I want to ask about growing up in PA and that music scene. Could you tell me a little bit about where you came from and how that defined you musically?

Yeah! I definitely feel like it used to have more of a scene when I was 13/14 years old. There was a really good hardcore scene around here then. Observe the 93rd is just a two piece, me and the drummer, and we have a basset play with us live. When we were kids, the drummer and I would go to this place called The Champ, which you had to go around this bend, down a gravel road, right before you cross the bridge into Harrisburg to get into. They would have all these up-and-coming hardcore bands and pop punk bands that are big now. They would have All Time Low, Ice Nine Kills, all sorts of bands that now everybody has heard of. 

We would go to those shows and there were a lot of good local hardcore bands playing, too. That’s the scene we grew up in. Whenever we started playing out, we would just be put on these hardcore bills… which we don’t really fit in. People would be in the crowd like, “Play a breakdown!” We would make up a breakdown in the middle of our set and go back to our sad alternative music. That’s the scene we grew up in, but it’s a little bit dead right now to be honest. A lot of people would get so upset about that, but I think it’s a little bit dead. It’s weird because Harrisburg is a good crossing point for bands to tour; if you’re going to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or New York City, we’re right there in the center. 

Even though it’s a little slow now, there will hopefully be more opportunities for it to pick up. You make a good point I want to hone in on – you played with these hardcore bands, but the music you make is not that. It’s not pop punk, but also not emo, not alternative… it’s just you. Is it tough to play shows and be put on bills? 

100% – every time we play a show we’re like, “Man, we don’t fit with any of these bands,” and that is always the case. I feel like early on we really loved that. We don’t mind it now, but we really loved being on a bill and sticking out like a sore thumb. It only gets harder as book our own shows, we end up doing a local headline show because we have to think about who we know and who were would make sense to be on a bill with. Honestly? We’re fine not fitting in and we don’t think about genre when we’re writing. I know a lot of my friends who are playing music are really loyal to the genre that they’re in. They want the music to reflect that scene. We just make… whatever comes out. 

I love that outlook. Sometimes you can get too bogged down with it if you’re trying to write, “This has to be a pop punk song.” You can almost forget, “Well, is it good?”

You’re right! We always let whatever the emotion is of the lyrical content always be the driving force. If it ends up being a folk song or something, which we’ve never done… if it were to become that, cool! If the next song on the album is a heavy metal song, then that’s what the song called for. 

You have so many elements. When you play live, specifically the new record, there is an eeriness with so many different sounds coming out. Is it tough when you’re performing to have these synths and backing strings that I hear? How do you kind of weave those in? 

Ideally, I would love for everything just to be played live because we’re a little bit old souls like that where we want everything to be live and if there’s mistakes and it’s imperfect, that’s cool. We’re fine with that, but it’s really, really hard to find people that will be as obsessively committed to music and playing in a band as you need them to be. It’s just Dylan [Zepp] and I in the band. I’m playing guitar and singing. He’s playing drums. We have a bassist that plays with us live. The synths and stuff are in the backing track, which it’s cool because then you know that they’re always going to be mixed properly. They’re all on one track and then you just have to raise one fader up. 

Still, not only do I wish that other people were on stage playing those parts, but I feel like you can be a bit more spontaneous then. We still go hard live, but there’s something about everything being played live and not down to a track where you can just… if we feel like playing something in the middle of a song and just going crazy, then I would like to be able to do that. I miss that because we used to have a keyboardist back in the day.

I get what you’re saying! Some bands will do that thing where they play guitar and speak to the audience as they’re doing it or stuff like that. On the flip side, a counterpoint is that you’re there to see the music come to life. Let’s just say you’re at one of these hardcore shows and you’re playing and the audience is like, “Where the hell’s a synth coming from?” It almost adds to the shock of, “What is this?” 

Yeah, there are pros and cons because I feel like now the synth stuff always sounds good. It is mixed well. We have like 808’s that drop and I love things that you just feel. They’re not really pitch related. It’s just something visceral that hits you – all of that is cool. It makes it sound very cinematic, but I would like sometimes to just look at Dylan and be like, “I’m going to go into this,” and do something random. Sometimes we still do that, but we just have to do it at the end of a song.

That makes sense. Diving into the reason that we’re on this call today, the music video for “Go Ahead” is out everywhere. Tell me a little about what went into that concept and how you thought to visually bring the song together.

This is a song where I had the visual in my head while I was writing it. I wrote this over two years ago, and then I just kept developing the idea. When I was in the middle of writing, I just saw me in a field. Originally I was going to try and have me hauling a giant tombstone or something, but then I found out those are really hard to get a hold of. Also, if you get a new one, they’re super expensive, so I went through a little bit of trial and error and then we landed on doing a coffin, which I love. I was like, “Oh my God, that should have been the idea of the entire time!” My sister and my mom actually made that coffin in the video, and they crushed it! Then with the long verse in the middle, I was very specific about it. This is the first video where I made a whole shot list for every second of the video. Usually I would just go into it, but we were working with my friend Josh Nesmith. He’s a videographer. He’s amazing. I usually go into a [music video] and have very vague ideas. I’m like, “I want this kind of setting and these sort of actions.” This one, though?I It was second by second. We knew what we wanted. We shot very specific moments and then as soon as we had it, we’re like, “Alright, move on to the next thing.” We didn’t have to film a bunch of different takes because we were like, “That’s exactly what we want. That’s what’s on the paper.” It was an easier process in that way, but it took a lot more planning before shooting this video. 

I almost think because when you were writing the track and you had these visuals, you didn’t have to go through that trial and error process of, “Is that cool or corny? I don’t know.” No! When you were writing the track, you knew this was cool and that was where it was born from. 

Yeah! I said to Josh, the videographer, when we were done, “I am never going to go into another one of these projects without doing a shot list like that second for a second, because then as soon as we got the shot, we knew that it was exactly what we wanted.” Also, in the editing process later, life was so much easier. We just dropped it in and we’re like, “We know exactly where that shot goes. Yep, that’s what we wanted.” It was way easier. More prep is worth it. Doing all the prep in advance, having a cohesive vision, and being much more focused when you’re filming makes it easier to edit.

Exciting. I’m actually a freelance video editor and I went to college for film editing, so I feel like I’ve never had the chance to talk to a musician about specifically the editing. Usually it’s always the music. Tell me about the editing process. I’ve never really heard of an artist being as involved in post-production. 

It’s funny, because I’ve asked Josh that. I’m like, “The other bands that you work with, do they like, sit here and like, edit this stuff with you?” He’s a good friend of mine, too. He’s all, “Nah, I just do it, but you know what you want. You have a good vision.” It’s a very collaborative effort. I really see it in my head a lot whenever I’m writing it. 

I also just love films, and whenever I’m watching films, I can feel myself soaking in the way they do things. I’ll watch something and I’ll be like, “Why do I like that?” I’ll rewatch it. “Oh, they did this, and then like a cut right at this part, and I like the way the music fits in there and switches up.” I’m kind of watching films while open to learning and trying to figure out why I like it and like certain scenes.

If I have a broad concept of a scene, then I have to sit down with the song and visualize the beats going along with it. “Ok, this shot and then cut right on that down beat. I want it so that this switches to this.” It does get finagled a bit later where we’re like, “Ok, we need that to be a little longer, so it’s not going to cut right on that downbeat. We’ll take it to the next downbeat.” There’s always room for change, but it’s really just about listening to the song, having that broad concept, and then forcing yourself to be specific about it, even if it changes a little bit later. 

That’s so refreshing to hear. People that are reading this for the first time and don’t really know kind of how that post-production process goes as an editor; we actually appreciate and need some guidance sometimes. For example, if you shot something in nine different ways, well, what way do they prefer? You can be creative and still have someone else’s vision. 

Right! Josh and I will go out for coffee a bunch of times before we go and shoot to go over the shot list so he knows everything that I have in mind. And then in the moment when we’re filming, he’ll be like, “What if we tried this? What if we grab this?” I always say yes. You always have to be open to things happening spontaneously in the moment because that might be better than everything you had planned before, so we’re always open to new ideas in the moment, but, like with anything, it’s good to go in with a cohesive vision and plan. 

You talk about this track and how when you were writing it, you kind of had this vision. When you wrote the new album, did you have the visuals in your head when you’re writing, or is that not always the case?

It’s with certain songs. I definitely think about things in a cinematic way because there’s something about when you’re watching a movie and the music interacts with it. It’s the pinnacle of artistic expression; something about the music and the way the camera is moving and the content of what’s happening on the screen can just hit something in your soul. I find myself looking for those moments in our music, but it doesn’t always work. I don’t try to force them ever. It’s typically specific songs that are kind of yearning to have a visual element. We’ve got some new songs and a lot of those songs that are going to be on the new record – many that I have video ideas for. I almost feel like I’m writing the song and the music video at the same time! Then just every song can end up having a music video! Maybe I’m just getting better at developing a visual for songs themselves, but in the past it hasn’t usually been like this one.

That is incredible. It’s like a muscle that you’re working out almost.

Yeah! It’s like a mental muscle that is getting a little sharper.

I know you touched upon it, but every two years with this band there’s been a new record. You’re writing new music now and have a record out soon. Is it possible that you have a timeline of when we might be able to expect what’s next? 

December is when we’re [dropping] the new album because I wanted to make sure I got it in before the end of 2023. We honestly have another album even already, mostly recorded, and we were possibly going to drop two albums this year… then I had to restrain us and say, “Let’s do this right. Let’s not rush it. Let’s market, let’s get a PR campaign going.” We’ve never done that either, by the way. We’ve never actually worked with a PR company. We just kind of would reach out to people and be like, “Hey, can you do reviews and review this?” This is our first time doing it in a way that feels responsible [Laughs].