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Steel for Brains

Exploring the Brains behind the Noise

It’s cool to like Coliseum.  Just ask any kid in the know at your local metal show who’s wanting to reach that upper tier of t-shirt status quo.  Don’t dare ask them to name a song, though.  Therein you might run into an amalgamation of problems.  For this writer, Coliseum is where trends go to die.  Their music enslaves you, and it’s not just of the punk or metal or hardcore variety.  It’s an ever-changing but always consistent punch to the gut that no t-shirt and no trendy name drop will every be able to convey.  My first exposure to Coliseum was with the No Salvation LP in 2007.  Despite my losing 4,562 cool points for not having been into them earlier, I give absolutely less than zero fucks, because goddamn am I glad to have heard them when I did.  There are more well known bands who want to be Coliseum, and there are a myriad of smaller bands across American who are absolutely envious of the eardrum-pummeling threat that these three guys stake to the ground of any venue where they’re playing.  Coliseum are the absolute prime example of what draws the dividing line between musicians who want and musicians who have.  These guys, like their music, are relentless and dominating, and it’s no more evident than in their touring schedule and in the prolific nature of their releases.  Currently hard at work on their fourth full length, I recently had the privilege of an email conversation with Ryan Patterson (vocals/guitar) and Carter Wilson (drums).

Okay, just right out of the gate here…what is the shortest amount of time you guys have taken off from touring?  Coliseum seems to have the reputation where you guys just don’t stop.  Do you guys enjoy constantly being on the road, or is a lot of it born of necessity where more and more bands are being forced to do more and more tours?

Carter: This year is actually the first year in the band’s history that there has been a conscious decision to not be on tour. We’ve only played five out of town shows this year. I’m not sure how our needs/wants to tour relate to other bands, but we found it necessary to take the year off for many reasons. The main one being to focus on writing a new record. Taking some time off to just live life, work, and spend time with friends and family, were also big factors.

Ryan: We have always toured often but not for incredibly long stretches, usually many short tours with a few weeks or months in between. The longest straight tour we did was about sixty days in 2009 and it was grueling. Generally we try to keep our tours between two and four weeks now, it’s better for your physical and mental health. We all appreciate the balance between the band life and our personal lives. We certainly love playing shows and touring, there’s no outside pressure from labels or anyone else, we do whatever feels right to us.

There’s almost a cult following when it comes to Coliseum.  That is, band members and others alike who don’t even know your music very well will slap on a Coliseum shirt just to kind of garner the “cred” that comes with that.  With that, what’s the band’s response to the sort of recent attitude that punk or metal is “hip” or “cool”?

Carter: Coliseum is certainly a niche or cult band in my opinion, but I’m not sure if i’ve ever seen anyone use anything Coliseum related to gain some sort of image of “cool”. I definitely think that notion could make sense towards the types of punk and metal that are “hip” right now, such as black metal and crust punk. So I think this question should be geared towards Watain, Liturgy, etc.

Ryan: It seems to me that we are a relatively obscure band to spend time tracking down our t-shirt and buying it just to impress someone else if you weren’t a real fan. I can’t imagine that’s the case, but who knows. I could see that happening with classic bands like Joy Division or Smiths but not a band like us. Punk has always been cool to me, I don’t know how it’s perceived by outsiders. There are always certain bands that seem to click as a hip band for folks that haven’t necessarily come up in the same circles as that band. That happens in all types of music and subgenres and I don’t see anything particularly wrong with that. It just comes and goes. Once again, I don’t see us as being one of those bands but I only have my own perspective to inform my opinion.

For Coliseum, having been together for almost nine years now, what would you say is the marked difference in the music industry from when you first started to where the group is now?

Ryan: I suppose we formed at a time when it was impossible not to notice that things were changing in how music was bought, sold, and even appreciated. There hasn’t been a huge change since then, it’s just continued to stay its course of morphing into something different. Things like Bandcamp and Kickstarter seem to be the biggest new tools lately and they definitely change the field, at least in terms of indie music. 

One thing I feel makes any band or musician worth their salt is their avoidance of labels.  You guys are often labeled punk or hardcore or metal, but you don’t really quite fit exclusively into any of those genres.  What did Coliseum have as a sort of goal when you guys first came together as a group?  Have you achieved those goals, or is it a constant fight against being pigeonholed?

Carter: I can only speak for when I joined the band, 3 years ago. I think Ryan was ready for big changes in the sound and attitude of the band. It was certainly evident when he gave me the first demos of what would become House With A Curse. People love to tell you what kind of band you are, and love to compartmentalize music into genres and sub genres to determine what’s “cool”, but I think at that point in Coliseum, the attitude adjusted to “this is a band with a wide range of influences, and we are only going to play the music that inspires us, no matter what kind of sound it is.” Coliseum is the sound of 3 individuals playing their own songs, which to me all fall under the umbrella of Punk Rock. So no, it’s not a quest to avoid pigeon-holing, I think we stopped caring about that a while ago.

Ryan: We have always simply wanted to play whatever moved us and we aren’t interested in how it fits into broader generalization. Punk and hardcore are tags that I identify with because I grew up in scenes that labeled themselves as such, but even those terms are open to such widely different interpretations that there are plenty of bands and scenes that could be considered such that I have no affinity for or connection to whatsoever. Musically, we have achieved what we set out to do with each record while always having the drive to do better or accomplish something new and different the next time. I think the only time that I felt that the band needed to consciously get away from anything was at the tail end of the No Salvation era on Relapse when we were being pegged as a metal band and started to get caught up in the gears of that scene and that aspect of the music industry. Relapse was and is wonderful, the bands and fans are all great, but I don’t particularly identify with metal as a scene and it’s certainly not a style of music that I ever set out to play. At that point I felt that the band had drifted into a world where I wasn’t entirely comfortable and we made changes in order to put ourselves into an environment musically and otherwise that we felt was right for us.

Just from the top of your head, what are the five best venues you’ve played in America?  What made them so great?

Carter: I’m a little biased because I work there, but The Bottletree is a truly amazing venue. It just goes above and beyond to make artists comfortable. The PA is great and the whole place just has a great vibe. I also really enjoy The Earl in Atlanta (amazing food). The Triple Rock in Minneapolis has great hospitality and sound. I always have a good time at Carabar in Columbus, Ohio. The Atlantic in Gainesville (who recorded our live split with Burning Love) is also great.

Ryan: The Bottletree in Birmingham is certainly the best venue in America. From there I really dig Carabar in Columbus, Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids, AS220 in Providence, The Atlantic in Gainesville, Triple Rock in Minneapolis… Places that are run by people who care about the bands and audiences, they treat you well and work hard to make sure that things are great for the bands and for the people that come to the shows.

It’s interesting to me to see that bands like Coliseum and the punk/metal/hardcore genre catching the ear of major press outlets who, just a few years ago, were balls deep in anything but that.  What’s the reason for the sudden mainstream love for the music you guys have been playing all along?  Is the music getting better, or are people simply paying attention to the art form?

Ryan: I haven’t seen an outpouring of mainstream attention for Coliseum, but maybe I’ve missed something.  

Coliseum are definitely prolific, and it seems as if you guys are upping the ante, so to speak, with every release.  It’s not that you’re trying to reinvent the wheel or anything, but you guys refuse to plateau your sound, if that makes any sense.  What’s the approach you guys have when you come into the studio to write?  What point A to point Z look like?

Carter: Coliseum has seen some sonic changes with the last few releases, and I believe that it’s born out of pure necessity to keep inspired to play punk rock. It’s really not rocket science. When we get together to write, we try a lot of different ideas and types of songs. If it feels good and ultimately feels like “us”, we keep it. For instance, there is a song on the new record we are working on where we are playing quieter than we ever have before, it’s crazy dynamic, but it feels so powerful to us, so it will become part of the Coliseum catalog. If it sticks, it sticks!

Ryan: We try not to repeat ourselves, there’s no point in writing the same song that you’ve written before so we just move into whatever direction seems exciting and interesting. I work a lot on the initial demos for the songs and generally just let them go where they go, I don’t try to force them too much, although there’s often a vibe I might be looking for with a specific song. For most of the songs I start out working on demo recordings with basic drum patterns and bass lines, then focus on my guitar parts and the arrangement of the song. After a lot of revisions I’ll send the demo to Carter and Kayhan, they learn the song basically like a blueprint, they get the general idea and then when we come together at practice we talk about the song and the ideas and we start to work on it. They each change and add their own parts to the songs and we keep revising from there. Sometimes the final song is very similar to the demo, sometimes it’s completely different. Some songs come from messing around with ideas at practice and there’s also a new song on the record that’s entirely based around a riff that Carter brought to the table. We always have all the songs completed before we enter the studio, we don’t have the budgets to spend months writing in a studio. Each recording situation is also different, sometimes we just document the songs, sometimes we spend time making changes or altering the sonic spectrum of that song. 

You guys are hard at work on your fourth album.  What direction do you see the band headed in?  I’m sure you guys won’t be employing any orchestras or children’s choirs, but how are you, I guess, adjusting or perhaps even devolving your sound on this next record?

Carter: It’s hard to describe, but I can definitely say that it’s the most focused batch of songs we’ve written. The dynamics are really powerful, and the rhythms are extremely tight. Each song has it’s own rhythmic idea, and the guitar melodies are the catchiest i’ve ever heard from Ryan. I’m singing them in my head all the time!

Ryan: Well, House With A Curse did have strings and children’s voices on the record so that’s not entirely impossible. We just continue to follow our ideas wherever they take us. I’m very excited about and album we’re working on now, I think it’s the most cohesive work we’ve ever done and we’ve even surprised ourselves a bit with some of these songs. I’m very excited to record them with J. Robbins at his new studio and get them out into the world next year.

When you guys aren’t touring, whenever that may be, what are some things the band members like to do in their leisure time?  Feel free to elaborate here.  

Carter: I live in Birmingham and work at the Bottletree. All of us play in local bands. I try to keep drumming as much as possible!

Ryan: I co-own and co-run a site/company called, do freelance design for other bands and have a couple of side project bands that I do when Coliseum isn’t busy (Black God and Whips/Chains). I’m also a movie/film fanatic and I skateboard a little bit here and there with a couple of friends, although I’m terrible at it.   

Lastly, as the social networking boom is at its absolute peak right now, I can think of no other art form that’s been so utterly affected, both negatively and positively, as music.  How does the band personally see the whole issue with file sharing, and what direct effect have you guys seen it have on your music?  Are you gaining more exposure because of it?  Are you unable to sell as many albums because of it?  

Ryan: File sharing hurts artists, it’s as simple as that. I don’t get the impression that we have gained any more exposure or ticket sales or t-shirt sales because of someone getting a digital version of our music for free. We aren’t a band that has ever sold tons of records, we sell more records now than when we started but I think that if this was the pre-file sharing era we would sell quite a lot more, but who knows. Our world of music has also started to turn into a new wave of Baby Boomer style nostalgia, with all the reunion shows and new bands forming that are capitalizing on nostalgia for older bands they were affiliated with in the 80s. I’m happy to see some of my favorite bands return and get their due but it seems that newer bands have a harder time instilling the same kind of connection with an audience that may never actually hold the band’s album in their hands or read their lyric sheet. There’s a tactile connection to a physical album that can’t be duplicated with a digital file and that connection extends beyond just that album and into how music affects a person’s life in general. There are plenty of advantages to digital media and social networking, but I am very opposed to the current prevailing feeling of entitlement to get something for free that someone else spent their time, energy, money, sweat and tears creating. 

Thanks to Carter and Ryan for their time.  It’s an honor to be able to speak with a band who basically makes their own shit happen and doesn’t rely on the trends or the various nuances of other outlets.  If you haven’t heard of or listened to Coliseum, no worries.  Start here.  If you’re like me, you’ll hear that song, and things will quickly progress from there.  Until then, I’ll see you guys on the other side.  

Timecop Forever.

Cheers. - D

Follow me on Crackbook or @steelforbrains.

2 years ago
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    Here’s a really rad interview with Ryan and Carter of Coliseum. It’s kind of amazing how many bands agree that...
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