Hope Springs Eternal: Touché Amoré’s search for a light at the end of the tunnel
The Kubler-Ross model of grief suggests that it is an emotion experienced in five tidy stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Time heals, they say. Jeremy Bolm would tend to disagree. Approaching the sixth anniversary of the passing of his mother, Sandy, from breast cancer on October 31, 2014, the Touché Amoré frontman still finds himself grappling with loss in its jagged, unexpected fits and bursts. The passing years bring change, he understands, but no final relief, especially as an individual who has poured so much of that pain into the art of his every day life.
“I don’t feel that you harden up as you get older,” he says. “You get more sensitive to a lot of different things.”
That sensitivity is on full show this morning. Clear-eyed and piercingly intelligent, Jeremy shifts restlessly in the bright rays of autumn sunlight filtering into his apartment’s office in the Los Angeles suburbs, a tangle of conflicting emotions.
Dragging down, he admits, is the dread-filled hangover of last night’s “miserable” opening presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden – a farcical viewing experience he likes to a “panic attack”. On the other hand, Jeremy hopes the video for his band’s latest single Reminders – a song searching for hope, written in the immediate wake of Trump’s self-proclaimed “exoneration” from impeachment proceedings in February – will be an effervescent “palate cleanser”, featuring a roll-call of heavy music’s finest… and their pets.
Deeper in the back of his mind is a DM received not 10 minutes before we sit down, about which his emotions are less straightforward: the latest in an apparently endless stream of correspondence with bereaved followers reaching out for connection.
“It’s always been a thing,” he half-shrugs, accepting the inevitable dialogue with a fervent fanbase. “I don’t think I’m unique in any sort of way in being an artist who writes about personal feelings and having people say, ‘Your song helped me through depression,’ or, ‘Your band saved my life.’ I appreciate that, but I don’t always necessarily buy it. You’re the reason you’re still here. It was you.”
Still, astonishing 2016 LP Stage Four was a watershed. Drawn from the pain, numbness and guilt thrown up in death’s immediate aftermath, it was arguably the finest post-hardcore release of the 2010s: a searingly cathartic, unprecedentedly frank chronicle so openly wounded that many listeners couldn’t help reciprocate.
“Stage Four was a necessity,” Jeremy reflects. “It was my way of coping and grieving. When the record came out, there was such a [strong] mixed reaction to it. There were people who found solace in it, connected to it, had a deep personal relationship with it. But, even in my friend group, there were people who found it too much to even listen to. The reaction it got was a lot. It’s still a lot…
“It’s hard having to stomach tragic story after tragic story while sometimes being asked advice when I absolutely don’t have the answers. I live in such jealousy of the other guys who can walk through a crowd at a show who will get a high five or a, ‘Good show!’ – while I walk through and get, ‘My sister died of brain cancer last week…’”
Songs meant to help heal had sparked a situation where, on the daily, Jeremy was scratching at scars. The unevenness of the emotional exchange was overwhelming, especially as he shouldered losses closer to home, from pet dogs Melissa and Marianne to – most recently – good friend and Power Trip frontman Riley Gale, who was supposed to appear in that Reminders video. “Our last conversation was him telling me he was so stoked to do it,” Jeremy says, with evident sadness. “It was the next day that I got the news. It knocked me off my axis. The world just hits you with these things.”
When it came to moving on with fifth album Lament, redressing the balance was a key objective. Dropping all the way back on September 10, 2019, excellent early single Deflector touched on the message: ‘That’s too personal / I’m too delicate…’ This September’s I’ll Be Your Host was more blunt in its plea for interpersonal understanding: ‘Pin a black ribbon on, we’re the mourning campaign / I didn’t ask to lead this party, I explain…’
Jeremy reckons it impacted the flow of messages for perhaps two weeks.
“I don’t think I’ll ever escape it,” he smiles, wryly. “I struggle with the guilt of it. I understand it. I’m genuinely honoured if anyone gets anything from my music or was able to feel less alone. But this conversation that I’m constantly having to have…
“It’s not fun. It’s not fun at all.”
Almost exactly 20 years ago – August 10, 2000 – Jeremy was on the other side of the exchange. New York post-hardcore hotshots Glassjaw were supporting Deftones at the Hollywood Palladium. Having just completed seminal debut album Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence with producer Ross Robinson, it was one of the band’s first high-profile shows on the United States’ West Coast. A then-17-year-old Jeremy was in attendance, but despite a love of Deftones, he skipped out on their White Pony set in the hope of meeting Glassjaw’s frontman Daryl Palumbo loading-out in the parking lot.
“I’ve been that fan that goes up to the singer to tell them how much their music means to me,” he grins, knowingly. “With Thursday, whenever [2001 album] Full Collapse was coming out, I made a fan page for them before they had a website of their own. I was a fanatic for them because [frontman Geoff Rickly] was singing about very personal things, and I connected. The music in my life that has connected to me the most is from those artists that I connected with on a deep, personal level.”
A child of the Los Angeles suburbs, Jeremy was never overawed by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but instead strove for the opposite of La La Land’s hollow facade. The screamo scene of the late-1990s/early-2000s fed that need, throwing up bands like Saetia, Pg. 99 and Orchid, with any number of gritty floor shows with singers on their knees, crying with their backs to the crowd. “I was such a sucker for that stuff,” Jeremy reminisces. “I still am.”
When it came to Touché Amoré, inauthenticity was anathema. The surging, heart-wrenching music provided by his bandmates – guitarists Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens, drummer Elliot Babin and bassist Tyler Kirby – was always integral, but Jeremy appreciates their hands-off approach in allowing him to say what needs to be said. “All of my favourite music is music that I feel deep in my soul. Those things were ingrained in me. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it 100 per cent. I’m not going to hold back. I’m going to be as honest as I possibly can.”
Even compared to the bands with whom Jeremy grew up, however, there is an autobiographical clarity about Touché to which fans cling. “I think it comes from being very direct,” Jeremy reasons, simply. “The things I’m trying to say specifically, I do.”
Hear Jeremy discuss how his other creative endeavours exists alongside Touché Amoré
An accomplished poet, even on written releases like Words From A Porch and October (work he considers “a less high-stakes branch in the same tree” to his musical career) Jeremy refuses to view the everyday through an overly-abstract lens. “As much as I’ll write metaphors or flowery ways of saying things sometimes, it’s always pretty straightforward. You don’t have to dig too deep to get what I mean.” Even his diction is emphatic. “A lot of the time in hardcore and heavy music, you can’t necessarily make out what exactly the singer is saying. The fact that I’m enunciating as much as I can helps the listener to grasp onto things a lot quicker.”
Proving that specificity – as much as universality – can hook a broad audience, it’s a trait that sees Touché straddle scenes, sharing much with emo-tinged contemporaries La Dispute and Defeater while still pulling energetically towards hardcore’s mainstream. Jeremy stresses that these variant sounds often come from the same space. Although friends in Code Orange and Turnstile draw from real life, their messages are extrapolated over grander concepts. Others like Knocked Loose and Year Of The Knife deliver emotionally exposed messages through high distortion and gnashed teeth.
“I understand being anxious or nervous about being super-specific,” Jeremy continues. “You’re opening yourself. You’re going to have to sing these songs a lot. If you’re being hyper-direct, it might make you uncomfortable. There are many bands I love who write deeply personal lyrics, but the vocals are so thrashy you don’t really understand what they’re saying. Everyone has their own defence mechanism for being too vulnerable. I get that. I respect it.
“In the end, it’s not like I’m some guy up on a cross doing this for you. I’m doing this for me. It’s my way of handling these feelings. Being as specific as possible has always been a huge part of the drive. And I don’t really know any better. You’re not trying to show-boat and act tough. You’re not trying to look cool. I don’t have a style. I’m just screaming these things because I need to get them out.”
With the four-year wait for Lament – making it the longest-gestated Touché Amoré album to date – it’s easy to wonder whether those feelings have been running low. To the contrary, they’ve been piling up. It’s an issue of perspective, Jeremy explains.
Each Touché album thus far has coincided with some life-changing paradigm-shift. 2009 debut …To The Beat Of A Dead Horse bristled with the energy of young men first making their mark. 2011’s Parting The Sea Between The Brightness And Me saw Jeremy coming to terms with life as a touring band, struggling with interpersonal relationships and relishing the distance afforded by time on the road. 2013’s Is Survived By was a concept album inspired by the existential wonder that came with turning 30, reckoning on legacy and memory. Although Jeremy could see the lingering effects of Stage Four’s trauma, there could be no Stage Five, and the relative numbness of keeping on keeping on simply didn’t feel as compelling – or significant – as what had come before.
“I struggled with that stuff really hard,” he says. “I just didn’t know where to start.”
At the top of the list of rock star perks for which he’s thankful, though, Jeremy lists his bulging Rolodex of contacts, “people that I can go to and talk with for advice or even just a good conversation…” One such chat saw Jeremy sit down with Brett Gurewitz, legendary Bad Religion guitarist and owner of Epitaph Records in early 2019. “He stressed to me that you don’t need to write a more impactful record, you just have to write a good record – that, to me, felt like such a strange idea – and that it didn’t have to be about just one thing.”
Listen to Jeremy discuss the political colliding with the personal on Lament
Fulfilling the brief, Lament is easily Touché’s most “non-linear” release since Parting The Sea… and their most sonically dynamic to date, with rich shades of Americana (Nick Steinhardt’s pedal steel bending in and out) layered onto an increasingly melodic hardcore mix.
Although the title-track (‘I lament, then I forget, So I lament, till I reset…’) is a compelling roadmap of the extended grieving process, elsewhere the album is a lyrical patchwork of life going on, finished days before going into the studio with a frantic last-minute session in Joshua Tree.
Come Heroine, featuring Angel Du$t’s Justice Tripp, Savouring, and lead single Limelight, featuring Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull are the relics of Jeremy’s impossible attempt to write a full romantic record for long-term girlfriend (and brand-new fiancée) Ashley. Alongside the aforementioned Reminders, album closer A Forecast veers into political territory normally reserved for Jeremy’s other band Hesitation Wounds, dryly mourning the loss of other family members to “the GOP” as our political and personal lives grow ever more convergent. “I think if you’re involved in the punk rock scene and you don’t pay attention to politics,” he says, “you need to find another world to exist in.”
Feign sees the singer grappling with Imposter Syndrome – a condition from which he feels every authentic creator should suffer. Exit Row is a compelling stream-of-consciousness indebted to the late, great Leonard Cohen, challenging tough-guy cliches and “raising a middle-finger” to those who’ve pigeon-holed Touché Amoré as “sad-boy” music: ‘I’ll offer up my aisle seat in this exit row for the sad elite…’
“I’m always hesitant to say that anything I’m doing is optimistic,” Jeremy muses. “As soon as I start to say it, there’s that part of my brain that’s like, ‘Do you really think that?’ It’s like I can’t allow myself to have actual joy. But this is optimistic. It’s allowed me to take a step back and reflect on the positives in my life.”
Adding to the reinvigorated feel was the aforementioned producer Ross Robinson. A name that had been on Jeremy’s radar since Korn’s 1994 debut (the first truly “aggressive” band with whom he clicked), Ross’ résumé speaks for itself: Sepultura, Slipknot, Glassjaw, At The Drive-In, Blood Brothers, The Cure… His boundary-busting studio work is also the stuff of legend, recording Jonathan Davis’ very real tears on Daddy, incorporating the sounds of Amazonian tribes on Sepultura’s Roots, corralling (and contributing to) the chaos of Slipknot in 1999.
“He knows how to get people in the spirit of things, shall we say…” Jeremy grins, tentatively acknowledging that the producer would have been too full-on to oversee Stage Four. “Like everyone else, I was super-nervous to work with him the first time. I was aware of the reputation and the folklore. He’s been a figure in my life this whole time.”
Rather than stirring the band up, however, it was Ross’ mission to bind them closer together. “Outside of playing together, we have a surfer, a graphic designer, a guy who just loves yoga and The Beatles…” Jeremy explains of his bandmates’ disparate backgrounds and interests. By having the vocalist explain every line to them – and perform in the background of each instrumental take – he perfectly weaponised the intimacy of Jeremy’s writing to focus Touché on Lament’s common purpose.
“Having to have those conversations about these songs was the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever experienced,” Jeremy explains. “You’re sitting in a circle, talking very specifically, while the other guys were being pushed to comment, ask questions and explain how these things made them feel. It opened up a new level of sensitivity with each other. After 12 years as a band – and more knowing each other personally – I didn’t think that would be possible, because I already know how everyone in this band smells…”
Hear Jeremy discuss working with legendary produder Ross Robinson for the first time
This being 2020, the pungent re-acquaintance of life on tour will have to wait. As anyone who’s experienced the sweaty exhilaration of a Touché Amoré live show (or caught their outstanding recent K! Pit performance) will already know, it is the ultimate realisation of that cathartic communion between band and fans. The moratorium on all touring – and the lack of any end in sight – hits Jeremy harder than most.
“Songs come to life in the live setting,” he sighs. “It’s a feeling of deep loss.
“The torture between having finished a record and it coming out is agonising. You’ve poured yourself into it. You’re proud of it. You want people to hear it. Once it arrives, listeners begin to really connect with it. Then I get to connect with it in a different way, through that live experience: I get to feel it differently; I get to give the album a new sense of life. But we can’t do that now. I need to wait patiently, just like everyone else.”
“It might sound a little trite and cliched, but I genuinely do this for our audience. Most of the time, when we perform, I’m on autopilot. That’s my defence mechanism to not lose myself too much in what I’m singing. If I’m going up there focusing on every line of a song like New Halloween, I’m not going to do so well mentally. I think that most musicians that tour often would say the same.
“What does get me emotional while we’re playing is watching people in the audience react. That might be someone in the crowd crying. It might be someone screaming their heart out on every lyric. That, to me, is the experience that I thrive on. It’s seeing the audience connecting with parts of these songs and making them their own. It’s that connection that I love with people who give us their time and attention. That’s what I do this for. It makes me feel like all of the stress and worry and anxiety is worth it at the end of the day.”
In a sense, Lament is the perfect soundtrack for these purgatorial times. As days run into weeks and on into months of isolated nothingness, it is, above all, a celebration of that search for connection, and humankind’s ability to lift each other up and endure through even the darkest days. ‘I’m still out in the rain and I could use a little shelter, now and then,’ pleads its parting line. In that, Jeremy sees a message to sustain us until we’re able to jump, together, back into the pit.
“We’re all struggling in our own ways. Don’t let appearances fool you. Just because time has passed doesn’t mean that I don’t need support. Just because I seem fine doesn’t mean that I actually am. Your friend might’ve had someone pass away years ago, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t reach out to them when the anniversary of that passing comes around. Open yourself up to others. We’re all so self-obsessed, sitting at home, staring at the walls or into our phones right now, but we’re all going through things in our own ways and still being there for one another is important.
“It’s okay to not be okay.”
Touché Amoré’s new album Lament is out now via Epitaph Records. Order your copy or stream it now here.
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