« Beautiful underground » : an interview with Evan Patterson of Young Widows

Noise-rock outfit Young Widows retraced their own footsteps this spring during a ten days tour across Western Europe. Their show with Hex in Geneva was a chance to catch Evan Patterson and ask him a few questions. The banks of the river Rhône, the light sunshine and breeze – although I realized afterwards it made the recording somewhat tricky to transcribe -, that was the perfect setting to talk past and present of Young Widows, and other things.

I think the last time you played Europe was 2009 – quite a few years ago – how has the tour been received so far ?

It’s been fantastic. We had no idea what to expect, we haven’t released a record in five years. Reception was great, crowds were incredible… This is my fifth time in Europe in the past two years with my solo band, Jaye Jayle, and some said « Why don’t you bring Young widows back ? » and I said if you ask us to come back, we will come back ! But if you don’t ask, we’re not gonna come. They (Nick and Jeremy, the two other members of YW – Ed.) have families, it’s hard for them to take the time. So it kind of happened through me seeing all the promoters and meeting people. So yeah, it’s been a great trip so far.

With all of you being very involved in dfferent projects, what’s exactly the status of Young widows these days ?

The state of the band right now is we mostly just get together to rehearse to perform shows. There are some songs from our records In and out of youth and lightness that we are playing on this tour that we haven’t played in eight years. So relearning those songs was a process that needed a certain amount of rehearsals to be able to perform them…

Is there a particular reason why you hadn’t played these songs for so long ?

Ha… That album was a weird part of my life, a time that I don’t particularly want to think about. Most of the performing songs were not on that record because they were more enjoyable and less emotionally touching. That’s why we hadn’t played those songs for that many years. With our last album Easy pain it was more a more straightforward concept. A little more story telling and a little less personal… And I find it more enjoyable to make music that way. As you get older, you look back and you don’t feel the same way you did ten years ago. Making the songs a little less subjective and a little more objective, it’s exciting to me.

Each of your records is quite different from the others. How is it for you to build the setlist ?

It’s not difficult. We take three songs from Easy pain, three songs from In and out of youth and lightness and then songs from older albums. It’s like going though the ages. They work really well together. Starts off very strong and then it gets more atmospheric and personal and then the teen years. It’s the reverse chronological way…

The deep reverb that you are using is very characteristic. How did it become such an integral part of your sound ?

Yeah, I kind of have fallen in love with this ping-pong slapback sound – everytime I say « ping-pong slapback », I wanna slap myself ! (laughs) It’s the sound of the stereo amplifier I always use – with Jay Jayle or Young widows. That very fast slapback makes the guitar sound like nothing else I’ve ever heard. It’s so full and so thick. It has a texture in the way that the notes play one on the another. It just speaks to me. I love playing accoustic guitar at home and I love not having any effects on my guitar when I write. I never write with effects. But then when we get together as a band, all of a sudden it just fill that void. And I guess there’s just something about reverb and bending or pulling a note, the dissonance that it creates,… I find it very beautiful.

I was wondering if bands like Hoover had been influential in that respect ?

Oh, Hoover is a huge influence ! I saw Hoover when I was 13 years old. Being older, I realize they were like the krautrock band of the DC scene. So repetitive and minimal !

Quite underrated as well !

Very underrated ! Regulator watts and Abilene… all of Alex Dunham’s bands I was a huge fan of ! His style of guitar playing was a huge influence on me when I was in my twenties. Especially Regulator watts ! That was such a fantastic band !

I’ve read that you’re writing all together in Young widows. I was wondering if that had evolved over the years…

Well, it has evolved towords us writing more together. At the beginning, I used to bring more songs to the band and have more direct ideas. And then it turned into a thing of more jamming ideas. Honestly, for a lot of the songs, we just go with nothing. We just show up and just start playing and just see what happens. I like that process but I’m kind of more on the side of composing songs now more than I ever have been. Especially with doing Jaye Jayle. I come with specific ideas of this happens here and this happens here. That’s how a lot of In and out of youth lightness was : specific ideas and then lots and lots and lots and lots of playing one part for many many many practices to figure out what we should do next. That’s generally how I write music.

Did having your solo band allow you to do something different with Young widows ?

Absolutely. That’s what resulted in Easy pain. The songs The guitar, on Old wounds, or Right in the end, The muted man and Young rivers  on Youth and lightness aren’t very different from what I’m doing with Jaye Jayle. I have a place to put all those ideas with my solo music now so Easy pain was like : OK let’s go over the roof and crush this building and see what happens !

Is that the meaning of the title « Easy pain » ? The fact that it was easier to bear than the previous one ?

Somewhat… (Evan is throwing a quick glance around.) It had also to do with doing a lot of drugs. Kind of destroying and abusing yourself. How easy it is to do that and how you don’t even know you’re doing it when you’re doing it.

In three days, you’re going to play your second album, Old wounds, in its entirety at the Roadburn festival. Why does it get this special treatment ?

I’m not sure.. My guess is that when this record came out in 2008 maybe there wasn’t a lot of music happening and it seems that that record has been important to a lot of people. You know, a lot of the time, what I do when I write music is introducing people to music that I love. And I feel that I’ve done that with making the music that I’ve made. It was introducing people to Jesus Lizard or Drive like Jehu – bands that influenced me to start playing music. And even still with Easy pain, I want people to hear that record and see clearly that I love the first Today is the day record and I love Am rep music. And even with Jaye Jayle, there’s all this incredible underground music that people need to hear and be introduced to.

You’re talking about the way people receive your music. It seems important to you…

Hmm, it’s not that important, actually. I’m not that worried about how people receive my music. I’m not a nostalgic person. I don’t listen to all those bands that influenced me to make Old wounds and it’s a bit strange to play a record that’s ten years old but I appreciate what it means for people.

What about reviews of your records ? There were mixed reviews of In and out of youth and lightness…

Honestly, I don’t read them… It’s what I wanted to make and that’s all that matters. I don’t make music for the critics, I make music for myself. It’s a struggle to just keep making music as a form of art because it’s not the mainstream successful route and I’ve never been worried about that. I love music. It’s not a thing like once I’ve made this amount of money, I’m going to stop. I’m going to keep making music until the rest of my life. Wether anybody hears it or appreciates it is second. It doesn’t matter.

Your bass player sings on « Delay your presssure ». He has a really good powerful voice…

He does, yeah… He sings back-ups on lots of songs but it seems he didn’t feel like doing more. Actually, I remember Kurt Ballou saying when we recorded Old wounds that if he sang more there would be no frontman and it would be a thing like Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto of Fugazi !

What about the current political situation, with all those populist leaders like Donald Trump getting more and more audience all over the world ? Do these uncertain times have an influence on your writing ?

Honestly, it doesn’t. There is a place for politics and art but it’s not what has influenced me to make art. I used to listen to political songs and now they don’t mean what they used to mean…. I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people… There’s always so much you can do and you just know how you live and how you feel and the respect you have for all of humanity and that’s a political statement in itself. But if something went really wrong, I’d be there for sure…

PS By the way, of course I also asked Evan if Young Widows had new material and he said they had a few but rehearsing and writing time was so sparse that the possibility of a record was unlikely in the near future.

Cover photography : Zoltan Novak

 

>>>>>>>>> YOUNG WIDOWS

« Football : 0 / Hardcore punk survolté : 10 000 » (Tuco, Joliette – La makhno, 27 juin)

Peu de monde ce soir-là à l’étage de l’Usine. A vrai dire, il y a à peine plus que notre groupe de copains lorsque Tuco plaque ses premiers accords.

Plaisir de retrouver leur noisecore massif et tourmenté. Ces longs morceaux pleins de bifurcations soudaines, de répits trompeurs, où suinte la tension malsaine.

Fidèles à eux-mêmes, leur performance est un rouleau-compresseur. On reconnaît quelques vieux titres de leur premier EP, comme le phénoménal Numb et son accélération qui te colle au mur du fond. Le premier album des Suisses devrait sortir ces jours-ci, en format numérique, en attendant un disque à l’automne.

Les mexicains de Joliette, eux, étaient une découverte pour pas mal de monde. En vérité, il y a pas vraiment besoin de beaucoup plus que deux minutes pour comprendre que ce groupe a quelque chose de très spécial.

   Putain de réacteur nucléaire où se fracassent sans discontinuer des atomes de hardcore hurlé, de noise surpuissante. Bouts de mélodies qui traînent en lambeaux dans le chaos et te prennent à la gorge. Breaks constamment sur le fil de la lame.

Le pire c’est que les jeunes Mexicains sont très cools sur scène, avenants et sympathiques. Derrière les fûts, le batteur prend le temps de remonter ses lunettes sur son nez d’un air flegmatique entre deux rythmiques hallucinantes de puissance et de groove. Machine !

Le public s’est massé devant la petite scène. Scotché. Chaque nouvel assaut sonore est accueilli avec ferveur. On en loupe plus une seconde.

C’était fou, ce concert ultime à prix libre devant une poignée de guignols. Au moment où tous les yeux, les oreilles et les porte-monnaies sont tournés vers la folie estivale du Hellfest et son hardcore à grand spectacle.

Nous, on a pas vu le match et on ira pas au Hellfest. Mais, ce soir-là – même si c’est évidemment con de le formuler comme ça – on nous empêchera pas de penser qu’on a vu le meilleur groupe de hardcore du monde, hé !

>>>>>>>>>> TUCO

>>>>>>>>>> JOLIETTE