How Cave In Turned The Loss Of A Friend Into Something Beautiful
On March 28, 2018, Cave In bassist Caleb Scofield passed away following a car accident in Bedford, New Hampshire. He was just 39.
Caleb – who is survived by his wife Jen and their two young children, Sydney and Desmond – joined Cave In shortly before the release of their first proper full-length album, 1999’s Until Your Heart Stops and played bass and provided vocals for the band throughout their career. He also was a member of Old Man Gloom – an experimental metal band led by former Isis frontman and Hydra Head Records owner Aaron Turner – as well as fronting his own sludge power trio Zozobra.
On June 7, Cave In will release their first album in eight years, Final Transmission. Originally intended as demos for their follow-up to White Silence, this nine-track collection features Caleb’s last recordings for the four-piece.
We caught up with frontman and guitarist Stephen Brodsky to find out more about the release and what’s next for the band.
What do you remember from the first time you played with Caleb?
“He really applied himself to learning the material and played it better than anyone I have ever played music with before, from a bass-playing standpoint. His wife would say that he would lock himself in a closet and just learn that stuff in the dark, playing it over and over again, these demos that we’d make. He took to it. That was part of the real magic for us, finding people who were willing to apply themselves so diligently. His playing made Cave In feel like a stable unit for the first time ever.”
You’ve been playing bass for Old Man Gloom recently. How would you describe his approach to the instrument?
“I think just being in a band with someone for 20 years, you start to get sense of how people play is not just in their fingers, but in the way that they move and the way that they behave, their whole vibe and actions. That’s why it was important for Cave In to have the opportunity to ask Nate Newton [Converge] to join the band, because he was someone that knew Caleb really well. They played in a band together for many years. That’s something that Nate could also relate to, as well. There’s like a whole personality behind the playing because Caleb wasn’t just a player, he was a writer. There’s just this whole personality that goes along with it, and I think being able to get into the mindset of that is really important if you’re going to do it justice.”
How much of Final Transmission had been completed before Caleb’s accident?
“Well, the song Led To The Wolves was musically constructed in 2011; after March, we started to put the lyrics and the vocals together for that song. The song Lunar Day is from 2014 and that was like an experimental thing. We were all file sharing music, seeing as we all lived in sort of different places. I was living in Brooklyn and out of that experiment, the song Lunar Day was the most fleshed out. It had lyrics and the vocal melody, the only thing that needed to happen was to get Adam on there, and that’s what happened after March of last year. The songs Strange Reflection, Lanterna, Winter Window, and Nightcrawler had been more or less fully-formed.”
When did you decide to complete the album?
“Before Caleb passed away, we were making some momentum writing this record. The session that we did in December 2017 and the one of February 2018, were two of the last times we spent with Caleb, hanging out and playing music. It was a struggle just to collect ourselves from the shock and to some degree, we still are and always will be, but once we started to look at the record as an opportunity to hang out with each other and spend time together as a form of therapy in a way. These are recordings that Caleb played on, so in a way it’s like spending time with him. We thought it was a good move and to finish what we had started. There was a real sobering moment in the midst of all the grief we were experiencing shortly after Caleb had passed away. I think it was something Adam said, which was like, ‘Well, you know we need to do what we can to help the family,’ like Caleb’s wife and two kids. So the idea of doing the record took on a new meaning, because in addition to the therapy and the everything I just described to you, we felt like we could use this record to generate some more funds for the family and we figured out a model that would allow us to give 50 per cent of the proceeds to the Scofield family. It just all crystallised in a way that felt like, ‘Okay, now we’re ready to move forward with this and feel good about it, or as good as we can.’”
Shake My Blood was released recently. Could you tell us the meaning behind the song?
“That was a song that existed in some form for many years, actually. That was the music that Caleb had written as far back as 2011 or 2012, so there’s been different versions of that floating around. That was one of the two songs that was lyrically incomplete when we started working on Final Transmission after Caleb had passed away. I definitely looked at it as an opportunity to write something about my feelings on the situation. It’s my first time ever dealing with grief to that extreme, and I guess I learned that it can be really paralysing and the world can look like a fearful place. It can actually make you afraid to go about your day. Everything seems new and life seems strange, so it puts concrete blocks on your feet. The whole idea of Shake My Blood is me telling myself or reminding myself you’ve gotta move, you’ve got shake it off and you’ve got to manifest the idea of what it means to move on from this; take all the anger, hurt, frustration that comes along with it and just shake your blood. It’s kind of like a call to action in a way.”
On a personal level, how helpful were those memorial shows for you, JR and Adam?
“The most helpful thing about those shows was getting everyone together and spending time doing what we love. With the Boston show, there was so much going on that night that I really didn’t have time to reflect but I just knew that while I was doing one thing or the other, I knew that we were creating something special for us, the family, the friends and for the fans. The energy of that was something that I’ve never experienced before. The Los Angeles show was a continuation of that, but that was emotionally more difficult for me personally, because it was right around Caleb’s birthday. I think with everything being so fresh when we did the Boston show, the reality of the situation only reached a certain point; by the time October came around, the reality had set in even more. We brought in twice as many people to that show and we raised even more money than we did in Boston. It was something that had to be over the top, and incredible and emotionally draining, because Caleb was a larger-than-life dude.”
A few weeks after he passed, you and Adam performed at Roadburn. How did you feel following the show?
“There was a certain sense of relief that we were able to actually power through that set. The crowd were super-respectful and the way people responded to us was a reflection of him in a way, his kindness, his ability to be humble and be level-headed about his work. Adam and I couldn’t have done that show solo. It had to be the two of us. Luckily, we have a history of playing in that format. We’ve been doing that on and off for years. It was pretty wild to use that foundation as a source of energy for people to pay their respects. We couldn’t have done that without our friends being at Roadburn; the Converge guys and our core group that were present that year being stood off to the side of the stage or standing right in the front. Having our friends’ support kind of anchored us.”
You got the satellite tattoo from Thomas Hooper while you were there, too.
“It was the last night of the festival for me and I was a little nervous getting tattooed. It wasn’t the first time that I’ve had it done, so I kind of know what goes into it. It’s kind of like drugs in a way; everything you’re feeling is going to be amplified by the experience of being under the needle. It ended up being such a wonderful moment. It was basically just two hours of laying on a hotel bed while friends would come in out and out of the room. Chris Maggio [Trap Them, Wear Your Wounds] told some great stories about his youth and people were laughing and joking. It was just all of us hanging out having a great time. It was a really powerful moment.”
We can only imagine that listening to the final mixes would have been extremely hard. Will you revisit the album soon?
“I had a guide along the process from an engineering standpoint and when it came to the mixes, I think I had a little bit more to say than the other guys, just because of being so close to it. Of course, when you get a master back you have to listen to that as well and it’s not something I can avoid. I’m okay with that, because again, I look at this whole thing from the standpoint of hearing my friends playing music again. In a sense, that’s the beauty of this record, in that we chose to work with recordings that only feature Caleb. Between White Silence and now there’s plenty of stuff, plenty of song ideas or songs or bits that maybe had potential to be a Cave In song, or a work or piece, but if it didn’t have Caleb playing on it, it didn’t make the cut.”
How has the whole album process helped you three come to terms with Caleb’s passing?
“I think especially now, with the record coming out and Caleb not being here to celebrate it with us is very strange; that’s completely new territory to me and JR and Adam. I think that it was nice to be spending time with friends who knew Caleb best; we would just tell stories and remember things as we went along. It was all good stuff, and the more Caleb we have in our lives at this point, the better.”
After your European dates, what’s next for Cave In?
“I think through all of the work that we’ve done to do the benefit shows and then to have Nate on board, there’s this newfound closeness and a new appreciation to do stuff with Cave In. I think overall everyone has a pretty positive outlook given the circumstances, and we do have some U.S. tour dates that will be announced at some point. We’re just going to go out there and celebrate this record for what it is. It’s bittersweet, and as difficult as that is, we have the foundation of what we did last year to kind of push us through. Beyond that? I’m not quite sure, but going back to what I said, overall there’s a generally positive vibe with the work that we’ve done to re-imagine Cave In in this new reality. Caleb is with us in spirit and it does feel like a gift to us that we can then share with the world and do some good with it.”
Cave In’s new album Final Transmission is released June 7 via Hydra Head.