Cave In talk new album Heavy Pendulum: “We had to make a great record, given the circumstances. If it sucked, this would all have been for nothing”

Nobody expected it, but Cave In are back with a brand-new album. Dubbed Heavy Pendulum, it’s the seventh full-length from the progressive post-hardcore merchants, and sees them embark on a new chapter of the band. We sit down with frontman Stephen Brodsky and drummer JR Conners to find out what it’s all about.

Cave In talk new album Heavy Pendulum: “We had to make a great record, given the circumstances. If it sucked, this would all have been for nothing”
Sam Law
Jay Zucco

With 2019’s Final Transmission, it felt like Cave In might be waving farewell. Arriving eight years after previous LP White Silence, and 15 months on from the death of longtime bassist Caleb Scofield, its 31 minutes of polished-up demo recordings seemed to be the work of musicians tying up loose ends, more interested in helping the family of their late friend than plotting a path forward for their band.

Not quite three times further round the sun, however, guitarist/vocalist Stephen Brodsky, his fellow six-string Adam McGrath and drummer John-Robert ‘JR’ Conners have welcomed Converge bassist Nate Newton permanently into the fold, and they’re ready to write their next chapter with seventh album Heavy Pendulum.

“The excitement is real,” grins JR, bouncing off the walls of his home and keen to work out some of that energy in the open air of a fresh northeastern spring afternoon. Stephen, meanwhile, is already out, in his car, scouting a location for their next music video up in Beverly, Massachusetts. There’s an urgency and a relish of life pulsating through even the darkest moments of the incredible, epic (71-minute!) record they’ve just unveiled, and it spills into their high spirits today. So much so, in fact, that even patchy signal on their Zoom call can’t dampen the mood.

“I can’t tell if you’re breaking up…” grins the drummer as one of Steve’s answers glitches into awkward silence. “What’s that, we’re breaking up the band?!” the frontman jabs back in jest as his screen snaps into motion. “Okay, I guess this will be our last record then. Thanks, Kerrang!”

Many fans presumed that Final Transmission would be a parting statement from Cave In. Did you ever anticipate the cycle for that album energising you to make this one?
JR: “I don’t know if we’d thought that far ahead. For me, Final Transmission was about having all of those tracks done as they were when Caleb was playing on them. I wasn’t thinking whether or not we were going to continue. That just wasn’t a question for me at that point.”

Stephen: “Our mission statement at the time Caleb passed away was that we had to do everything we could to help his family get on its feet. We were working through our own grief, too. We knew that putting the wheels back on the band would be a good vehicle for raising some money for the Scofields and a good way for us to get together and spend time together as friends in the wake of such tragedy.”

So when did you begin to feel inspired to make new music?
Stephen: “I guess it was when we started playing shows and reconnecting with our catalogue, and realising that there is so much Caleb in all of this. He had been in the band for almost 20 years. He was such a crucial element in defining not just our sound, but the decisions that we made and who we are as people. He was as much of a brother as anyone could be. It didn’t make sense to have put all the work into putting the wheels back on it just to abandon it. Caleb was pretty specific about what he had in mind when we were working on what would become Final Transmission. The two big things when it came to doing this record were recording in a studio – which we hadn’t for years, and which we were supposed to on that last album – and staying true to Caleb’s original vision, focusing on the thing that sets Cave In apart from our contemporaries, writing stuff that is catchy, has hooks and is focused on melody while keeping it spacey and atmospheric.”

In the eight years between White Silence and Final Transmission, you spoke about not wanting to rush new music and how you were enjoying just hanging out as friends, but you’ve made the follow-up in under three. Is there more urgency, following the events of the past few years?
“I guess, for me personally, losing someone that close to you, especially when you play music together, is that it opens your eyes and gives you a kick in the pants to say, ‘This could stop at any moment'. And if it is something that you love and you want to keep pursuing, then you might as well get to it instead of saying, ‘Maybe next year…’ It pushes you to shut up and do it rather than just talking about it.”

As the first music you’ve written in full since his passing, does the record feel like a final celebration of Caleb, or the initial step in moving on?
Stephen: “Heavy Pendulum is a combination of all that. It’s definitely a reckoning on how we’re all different people following this event that we’ve lived through, and will continue living with. That’s grief, essentially: just this shapeshifting entity that pops up at various points in your life to surprise you in new ways. But we have this opportunity to keep his music and our connection to it alive. The verse riff on New Reality is one of his that we jammed on in the White Silence days. There were lyrics of his that we used on Amaranthine that came directly out of a notebook of his, filled with song ideas and drawings and things. I think we’ll always consider, ‘What would Caleb do?’ He just taught us so much. As far as doing shows and continuing to play music in front of people, his songs are some of my favourite Cave In songs to play.”
JR: “It would be impossible to get rid of his influence. Even the way that we individually play our instruments is very much influenced by having been in a band with him: the intensity, the rhythms, even if it’s a new piece of material, it sometimes feels like it’s come from Caleb. It’s very much ingrained at this point.”

With that in mind, how important was getting Nate onboard as his replacement?
“The fact that Nate was willing and able to do it was a crucial component of this band moving forward. The three of us were sort of scratching our heads, knowing that Nate was our first pick, but not knowing whether he was up for it. We put together the names of some potential alternatives that we could ask, but all of those other ideas we had very much paled in comparison with what we were able to feel with him. The fact that he’s [with us] despite all of the other stuff that he’s got going on, and that he’s willing to bring this band to the next level, helps us to appreciate the time where we’re able to do this stuff even more. If Cave In is a cat with nine lives, I don’t even know which one we’re on now. I’m just thankful that we have another chance to be out there doing it.”

The record veers between passages of alt rock and real heaviness. Did his presence help build up those harder edges?
“Nate is a bit older than us, so he has a different perspective on all the stuff that blew our minds as young teenagers – which is good! A big part of what made myself, JR and Adam want to get out there and do this in the first place is the grunge and alt.rock of the early-to-mid '90s. It was new and fresh and happening in a generation not much older than us. It felt attainable. With everything going on [over lockdown] it felt like people had a lot more time alone with their thoughts. [For us], that led to reverting back to a very youthful mindset when it came to writing music. I feel like it would’ve been very easy to revert to a bubble of just that influence. But it was good to have a voice like Nate’s in there: a fan of the band, who’s been on the sidelines for however many years watching us and cheerleading us and saying, ‘Wait, you left Inflatable Dream off of Jupiter?! What the fuck were you guys doing?!’ I think the record is a whole lot better because of it.”

Looking back at lockdown, lead single New Reality touches on your experience moving on without Caleb, but also on the broader human experience in the post-pandemic era. Did that feel like an unavoidable theme?
“It’s pretty accurate to read into how New Reality reflects pandemic life, or post-pandemic life. But there’s also a silver lining to that in terms of the creative process. When it comes to writing music, I’m more focused on Cave In than I have been in a long time. If things were just going as planned, tours were happening, and we were having conversations about travel, merch and logistics in that radio station of constant chatter – especially when you’ve got multiple bands going on – I don’t know if I’d have been as focused. Cave In needed a good focused effort in terms of everyone being available and engaged in the writing process for some great songs. In some ways I feel thankful for having had that opportunity. Obviously, there was a darkness there in terms of all the people we lost, how people’s lives were affected, the hit that the entertainment industry took. I guess we had to make a great record given the circumstances. If it sucked, this would all be for nothing. But I think this is one of our strongest pieces of work, ever.”

Is that titular ‘Heavy Pendulum’ a metaphor for what living through that experience was like, as much as it is for processing grief?
“I would say so. Everything these days just seems so heavy, right? From the news to things happening personally: fallouts with family members and things like that. And it swings back and forth. You’ve got all those heavy depressing emotions coming from the things I’ve just mentioned, but then you’ve got the positives. My very close family in my wife and kids have actually gotten tighter as a unit. It’s brought joy to be stuck together. You have these heavy swings of emotion, and the pendulum keeps going higher and higher on both extremes so that it becomes difficult to have the middle-ground.”

You recorded with Nate’s Converge bandmate Kurt Ballou, making a full album with him for the first time since 1998 debut Until Your Heart Stops. Did it feel like you were rekindling the old magic?
“It was this interesting scenario. The last proper recording we did with him would have been in the summer of 2001, doing some demos for what would become the Antenna record, and only a handful of those were released. Prior to that, we were recording with him on-and-off, most notably Until Your Heart Stops, which was a pretty defining period for our band. At the time, Caleb had just joined. So to be finally working with Kurt again in a scenario where we have this moment where we’re redefining ourselves – with Nate as our new bass player – felt like this strange coming [full-circle]. What was also strange was that Kurt has been at his God City studio in Salem now for almost 20 years, and all of our adjacent bands and projects – Doomriders, Clouds, Mutoid Man, Converge Bloodmoon – have recorded there. Finally, after 20 years, Cave In manages to get ourselves in there and make a proper recording, too.”

Coming in at 14 tracks over 71 minutes, you didn’t hold back…
“We definitely made ‘an album’. We haven’t been in the studio to make a proper record in over ten years. Maybe it’s closer to 15. But it’s really great that we got to make a huge body of work and, for lack of a better word, sculpt it to the point where we’re happy with every song on there. Steve showed up with some demos and we worked on everything kind of in the order that it shows up on there. It was kind of like we were writing the record front-to-back in a way that we hadn’t before. We were very aware of what was coming before a song, and what was coming after.”

Finally, having swung back from your Final Transmission, where do you go from here?
“I’m definitely interested to see where this goes. We’re going to keep doing this in some shape or form for as long as we’re physically able to do it. At this point, it’s a question of why bother doing anything else when you can just continue playing music? It’s the most important thing that I’ve got going on aside from family and friends. So why not pursue it wholeheartedly and get as much in as possible.”
“I remember when I started playing with JR. He was one of the best drummers in the area, already in like two or three bands. I thought that I’d learn some Nirvana songs and see if he wanted to jam. Here we are like 30 years later doing the same shit. I feel very fortunate for that. I know that there are so many people who don’t make it this far in their friendships and relationships, in music or in life. Cave In is just a great vehicle to celebrate how far we’ve come – and whatever else lies beyond.”

Heavy Pendulum is released May 20 via Relapse Records.

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