I don’t think there’s a conversation you can have about independent music where a band like Gates - and even Gates, specifically - can or should be dismissed. A big part of what’s made this particular moment in time so monumental for the current run of indie bands and labels is a work ethic that, thanks to failing mainstream music empires (or maybe in spite of), really shouldn’t even be there: hard work, creativity, drive, and an unwillingness to back down from what they want describe a lot of current bands and labels right now. Gates, though, remains an exception, even in these exceptional times.
With Bloom & Breathe, an intense, passionate, and exhausting culmination of nearly half a decade of hard work, of putting all the right pieces into place and never once taken it for granted, Gates has established themselves as a positive, emotive force to be reckoned with, and they’ve done so with an immediacy that is, no pun intended, breathtaking. It’s album I’ve felt completely in sync with since first listen, and for all of it’s intricacies and deliberate rhythms, ebbs and flows, and oftentimes overabundance of ideas, there’s an energy and connection that runs through its entirety.
This will be Gates’ 4th time through the area in as many years, and second time at The Southgate House Revival. This time, they’re touring with Young Statues and Bob Nanna of Braid’s solo project, The City on Film. I was able to ask Kevin Dye, vocalist and one of 3 guitarists a bit about their experience over the past year or so (since the last time we spoke to them), as well as the recording and release of their debut full length, Bloom & Breathe. Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions.
It feels like Gates went from happening in fits and starts to suddenly happening all the time - with 2 EP’s, the reissue of the second EP, and then a full-length and more serious touring, a lot has changed. Can you talk a little about what’s been most challenging during the transition?
Kevin Dye: At least to me, we’ve worked just as hard over the entire course of our existence, but the results ultimately are changing as we progress, allowing us to do more and more and altering the things we’re working on. I think the hardest thing as we move into more touring and just generally spending more time working as Gates is just being able to support ourselves and keep jobs. I know we’d all like to be playing as many shows as possible in 2015 and beyond, as well as to complete all the projects and ideas we have, but we also need to not end up on the street. It’s a hard balance, but I think it’s one worth pursuing. I can’t see my life without making music, so if I get to do it in some capacity, I’ll be happy. I’d also be ecstatic to be able to do it all day, every day. Currently, I have an awesome job that I also love (shot out to Squarespace!) so at least for now, I’m in a good place. That being said, there’s just this looming, impending doom at all times wondering if this next tour will be the one that gets me fired, and if that happens, wondering if I made the right decision.
The bands progression has been a point of pride for fans (like me) who have been listening since the release of your first EP. Gates certainly has a lot to be proud of with Bloom & Breathe. One thing that was very apparent from the first listen is that it’s a very big album, especially compared to some of your earlier work. How conscious of a decision was it to make such a massive record? Was that something that was teased out during recording, or was everything basically turned up to 11 from the start?
KD:I think that Mike Watts’ ability really played into that. I’ve always been a fan of his work, and I think we’ve always at least been trying to make our albums sound like this from the start. Personally speaking, I grew up in the 90’s when rock bands had budgets and were going to actual studios to record. I’ve always loved those big sounding rock albums with cool production. We also go for that big sound live and wanted a record that represented that better. We’re just lucky to have met Watts and been able to achieve our vision in that way. That being said, we decided to add songs like “Marrow” and “Nothing You’ll Miss” to give the album diversity. I don’t think it was our intention to have it be non-stop loud. We wanted to have a nice contrast of dynamic. I know that’s something we continue to work on moving forward.
It’s been interesting, as a fan of the band, to see both the critical reaction and the fan and listener reaction to Bloom & Breathe, your first full-length. This scene, for whatever reason, has a lot of people trying to shout positives and negatives at each other, all the time. How much do you pay attention to those reactions and responses? How much do you think it’s necessary to separate yourself from that side of things?
KD: I think it’s 100% necessary to block out all opinions posted online, but I also think it’s really hard to do. Of course, you spent two years of your life on something, some of these ideas spanning as far back as seven years, and you put it out into the world. How can you not want to know what people thought of it? And you’re reading along, and there’s so many nice comments, and then there are so many not nice comments. And there’s so many nit-picky little complaints or just unnecessary negativity. And you start to doubt this thing that you worked so hard on from the first second it hits people’s ears. Before, if some guy was at a Beatles show and he turned around to the person behind him and said “this band sucks!” they just shrugged it off. Now it’s a permanent comment directly below the thing you worked so hard on, just tainting it in a way. I feel that way about the super positive comments too. It’s ruined people’s abilities to just decide for themselves what they like and don’t like. I guess I just never understood what made someone’s opinion valid, especially if all they’re doing is sitting around on their computer and criticizing what other people had worked on so hard when they’ve done nothing themselves. If you don’t like something, you should be trying to make something that you do like instead of spending all your time on YouTube.
That being said, how are you feeling about Bloom & Breathe finally being out in the world? (I’ll be adding a sort of mini-review of the album as the intro here, and you all know how I feel about it). It was a long time in the making, so I’m sure there was a significant amount of relief mixed with anxiety.
KD: I never really felt anxious about it, but I definitely felt relief. It was such an undertaking, especially emotionally, that it was great just to have it done and to get it off my chest. It’s also so cool to be able to play these new songs live, that we all feel just apply better to that environment and we enjoy playing them. I enjoy revisiting the songs every night in that regard. The timeframe where the album was done and no one had heard it but us was great. I felt like we really accomplished something and I was so proud of the five of us, and the people who work with us. Once it hits the internet it kind of becomes, “Okay, what are we going to do next?” There’s absolutely nothing about an album becoming public domain that qualifies it to me. It’s all about what we made when it was just the five of us in a room, and whether or not we pushed ourselves to our full potential. “Bloom & Breathe” was the best album we could have made at the time and I’m very proud of that.
One of the more interesting things to happen to the band was your decision not to play Fest, and instead go on Pianos Become The Teeth’s record release tour - which, coincidentally, acted as your own record release tour. Can you talk about that experience?
KD: We loved Fest when we played it in 2013. It was so much fun, it was such a whirlwind and you get to see so many of your friends. We were really looking forward to it, but it’s booked way out in advance. We weren’t really sure when the record was even going to come out when we booked Fest. Once we got the October release date, we wanted to line up some shows to support it. That’s when Pianos offered to take us out, and we couldn’t turn it down. If I had to list five bands I wanted to tour with they would have been one of them. I don’t regret the decision, I know none of us do. We can always play Fest next year, but that was just a perfect way to introduce our record and a great run that I’ll remember forever. Not to mention Pianos’ newest record is one of my favorites of last year, along with Frameworks’ “Loom.” So yeah, it was just a great way to start off the “Bloom & Breathe” cycle.
There was also a run with Foxing, whose name we’re seeing a lot more of. It seemed to have a fairly significant impact on you all personally and as a band. Can you talk about what made that such an important experience for you all?
KD: There’s just something special about Foxing. I got into the Albatross a bit before the tour, and I particularly just thought “The Medic” and “Rory” were such genius songs. They were another band on my “top 5” list for tours, so again things lined up and we were just excited to play with them. They were amazing people, as are all of the bands we tour with. I don’t know, I can’t describe to you how inspiring that band was to me. I went home after that tour and re-evaluated everything I’d ever done, and I still am. There was just a kinship there, a mutual respect that made that tour so special to me. It was like we were pushing each other to be better as the tour went on, and every night I thought we just killed it, they’d go on and blow us away. I’d love to get another shot touring with that band because I feel like I have something to prove. I feel like I can do so much better, and I can’t tell you how important that was at that particular time and will continue to be.
The last time you were in Cincinnati, you came through with Frameworks and played the same room you’ll be playing with Young Statues this time around. Not long before that, you came through with The Gaslight Anthem. Those are bands who play very different styles of music (not to mention bands like Foxing and Pianos Become The Teeth). What draws you to such disparate styles of music when you tour?
KD: I can tell you that each of those opportunities came our way largely in part to the bands themselves wanting to take us out on tour, or tour with us. There are so many bands out there that deserve to be heard, that work their ass off, we’re just grateful for the opportunities that we get and for the bands we’ve met along the way, reaching out and helping us get out there. I also think that people want to hear diversity, and they want to hear different sounds at a show, and in some regard we’ve provided that on these tours along with the bands we’re playing with. It’s nice to not be in a scene where everyone is just ripping off one sound, but instead to hear so many different things and see so much understanding and acceptance of all styles.
After this run with Young Statues, what’s next for the band? Any more releases to look forward to this year? Any tours in the works or on the horizon?
KD: We’re going to be touring again in the spring for sure, and then probably again in the summer/fall. We want to play a lot this year and really give “Bloom” the life it deserves. We’re also looking at doing some splits this year, which we’ve never done and have always wanted to do. We’re starting to reach out to our friends and seeing if they’re interested, and so far we’re really excited about what we’re coming up with. We have a repress of “The Sun Will Rise” on vinyl with some really special packaging on the horizon as well.
Is there anything else you would like to add or mention?
KD: Let it be known that Jared Bowers is the dude above all dudes and we’re happy to know him. It’s people like him that make the hard days easy and the bad times good.
Gates’ live show is not one to miss. Check them out this Friday January 16th at the Southgate House Revival with Young Statues, The City on Film, and The Story Changes. And be sure to check out Gates’ debut full length, Bloom & Breathe, out now on Pure Noise Records.