Jeromes Dream: Screamo’s Forefathers Return to Tour With The Bands They’ve Inspired
In today’s oversaturated punk rock culture — one that includes subgenres and artists that have been commercialized, parodied and meme-ified – the legend of Jeromes Dream might sound like satire to an uninformed outsider: Performing with their backs to their audiences, with a singer who yelps without a microphone over frenzied guitar riffs and drum fills, the band released two albums in the span of two years, and promptly broke up with no sign of ever reforming.
But any true hardcore punk fan knows that it’s the other way around: Jeromes Dream were the OGs, and all the watered-down “screamo” bands who followed just bastardized the band’s trademarked violent style. Along with acts like Orchid, Saetia, and Pg. 99 the Connecticut-based band heavily influenced the “skramz” movement (i.e. screamo in its purest and most abrasive form), paving the way for acts like Touché Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, and La Dispute to pick up the reins a decade later.
And just as the scene is finding a new lease on life on YouTube, music streaming platforms, and at live shows and festivals, Jeromes Dream have reunited and crafted their first new release in 18 years. On the heels of Kerrang! exclusively premiering this untitled album last month, Jeromes Dream are now promoting the record by performing alongside acts such as Touché Amore, Vein, and Gouge Away on a national tour that’s a literal dream come true.
“I’ve dreamt about this night,” says fan Sean Beard, moments before the band takes the stage at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, New York, opening for San Francisco’s Loma Prieta. Sean drove eight hours from upstate Buffalo, New York, just to witness his favorite band of all time – one he’d never gotten the chance to see since discovering them nearly two decades ago. “Today is such a big deal. There’s just so much nostalgia – listening to it in my car as a kid, they’re the first band I put on when I got my driver’s license…. This is a beautiful moment.”
“I’m probably going to cry,” he admits.
Sean is not alone in his passion for the band. Though most of the attendees at the show have never seen Jeromes Dream play during their original short tenure, all have pored over grainy YouTube videos of the band performing in basements, rec halls, and boxing gyms. And live performances in 2019 have been blowing away fans’ expectations. Their jagged, heavy music — especially the new material — must be experienced in person to be fully understood.
An hour before their performance at Saint Vitus, we catch up with Jerome’s Dream at a coffee shop across the street from the venue to chat about the past, present, and future of the band.
KERRANG: How was your first show of this tour?
Erik Ratensperger, drums: Well, first, we did a secret show in Waterbury, Connecticut. The guy we made our new record with, Jack Shirley, came up with the idea [of a warmup show]. So we ended up casting out a social media thing to get people to RSVP because the room only fit about 40 people. We had a little impromptu show: the first Jeromes Dream show in 18 years.
Jeff Smith, vocals and bass: It was like a meet and greet. All the kids came and we didn’t charge any door fee – just donations for the space. We hung out with these kids; it was awesome. It was really fun.
Erik: The first [official] show in Connecticut was with this band Corrode, which is Will Dandy (Killingsworth) from Orchid and Ampere, and his partner Meghan [Minior], who is also in Ampere. So it was a real treat to not only play our home state — which we haven’t been in together as a band since we broke up — but to play with familiar faces and friends. The turnout was bigger than expected, and the vibe was very communal and felt like the old days. It kind of overwhelmed us, but also felt right, and we couldn’t have kicked it off on a higher note.
When you broke up, did you guys ever think you’d one day be sitting here with Kerrang! or playing a venue like Saint Vitus?
Jeff: No, not at all. Erik and I were in touch, but Nick didn’t talk to us for a really long time. There were a couple of years in between when Erik and I played and started hanging out again. But for the last 10 years, I would just kind of poke at him a little bit and say, why don’t you just write a song?
Erik: There were sporadic talks. Any time I would come through Jeff’s town, San Francisco, we’d grab a beer and reminisce about the past. Fast forward to 2017 — about the 20 year anniversary of when we started in ’97 — I thought, ‘We need to find Nick, and talk about what we did when we were kids.’ That conversation ended up being a three-hour-plus phone chat. And for some reason I felt compelled to record it. We didn’t know what this was going to become, but the moment we spoke together as a threesome, we knew that we had to do something.
So, Nick…I have to ask: What had happened to you?
Nick Antonopoulos, guitar: I was just doing my own thing. I mean, I played in a couple of bands afterwards. Nothing really amounted to anything other than rocking out, practicing. I lived in Vermont in a cabin for awhile, came back down, and then a few years later I ended up talking to these guys.
Now that you guys are back together, you’re not playing too much from your first and most famous album, Seeing Means More Than Safety. Why is that?
Jeff: Our set has one and a half from Seeing Means More, and then there’s one from the Orchid split. We did struggle with how much of the old stuff we should do versus the new. Obviously we want to come out with mostly new stuff, but we also want to pay homage to what we did in the past and give that to the longtime fans.
Erik: That was a point of conversation: How do we meld the old stuff from when we were 20 years old with the new stuff that we’re writing as 40-year-olds? We feel like even though we’re playing more new material, as a package it’s balanced and it works.
Jeff, obviously you’ve since changed your vocal style from what’s on Seeing Means More — how do you deal with that now when playing those old songs?
Jeff: It’s weird: once we started playing live, I found this sort of new/old gear, in between the new vocal style and the old vocal style, if that makes sense? You have to hear it. But it came organically. There is like a more, guttural, growly, screaming thing happening.
I assume that you changed the style because screaming without a microphone was physically crushing you, right?
Jeff: Oh yeah. But part of it also was that I just didn’t feel like doing it that way anymore. I wanted to do something else, you know? There’s a lot of emotional output in what we’re doing, but it’s also artistic output, too. To me, [the old style] just felt very repetitive and I wanted to just do something different.
Speaking of doing something different, your sophomore album, Presents, showcased a shift in both vocals and overall sound. How do you characterize that change now, 20 years later?
Erik: I think Presents was a very honest record, but also a very cynical one. At that point we felt like we were more in isolation than we ever were. I just felt, like, fuck all of this. I felt very much on our own. So we holed up an Amherst and wrote that record in my bedroom. At the time, I was living with Will from Orchid in Amherst. [Jeff and Nick] would drive up from Connecticut every weekend and we just set our shit up in the room. And immediately we noticed a real shift in the sound. That’s when Jeff started experimenting with a different vocal expression. And in the music, too, was a natural evolution from the very chaotic, schizophrenic approach on [Seeing Means More], to a much more precise model of the Presents songs. We didn’t overthink it, it just happened — but it was very polarizing. ‘Cause people didn’t expect that to come from our band. People were like, what the fuck is this shit?
Jeff: Using a microphone versus not using a microphone — they’re like who is this band?
Erik: But we were okay with that. For us, punk rock is creative freedom. And a lot of people have a mindset about adhering to certain ideals in punk rock. I’ve found that if you do something that pushes the envelope or isn’t necessarily slotted in a particular format, then it’s suddenly not punk rock. That was always our challenge because we embraced that freedom full on in terms of doing exactly what we wanted to do. And when Presents came out in 2001, people just didn’t know what to do with us.
Nick: It didn’t help that it came out well after we were playing shows in that style. So people were coming to shows expecting the [Seeing Means More], and we were playing [Presents].
Was it that dissonance between fan expectations and reality that broke up the band?
Erik: I don’t think it was that. After the few years that we were together, I personally kind of hit a wall with everything. I pulled the ripcord very quickly, pulling the rug out from everyone. The day we broke up was the day we played our last show. Like, I literally walked up to Jeff’s mic and said, ‘This is going to be our last show.’ I wouldn’t have done that the same way now. I was in a much different frame of mind when I was younger — very angry and in my own world. It was weird, too, because the audience was also like…what? Because we didn’t bill it a final show – it was just like, ‘We’re done.’
Jeff: It was really anti-climactic.
Nick and Jeff, how did that make you feel?
Jeff: I mean, yeah, I was really pissed. Because I felt like we had a lot more in the tank. I felt like we were just starting to hit something that was going to be something bigger than I could have imagined when we started. Over the year or two after that, I was angry about it, but I was kind of able to understand where Erik was coming from — you know, being tired of politics in the scene. And that’s why after a couple years, I started being like, ‘Hey…’
Erik: You know, I think I was feeling a bit stifled being so heavily involved in punk rock. It was just the overall feeling of not evolving the way I personally wanted to. So I moved to New York, went to school, and carried on with my life. I eventually returned to music, but it was with completely different bands in a very different sphere of music. And I’d try to be open minded about experimenting with different music, and every fucking time it just totally fell flat on its face. Of course, it only took 18 fucking years for me to come to my senses that if I’m going to do music at all, I need to do it with two of my oldest, best friends who are like brothers to me at this point — even though so much time has gone by and we’ve lived a lifetime apart.
Sometimes you can be playing with the best musicians in the world and it just sucks. Then you get in a room with two of your oldest friends, and you all might not be the most proficient musicians and it sounds a certain way and it resonates.
Erik: Chemistry, exactly. And our intentions as a band. The three of us are creative people and we feel that this band, the outlet is seamless for us. There’s no navigation through the portal. It’s like, ‘Okay, we’re doing JD? Fuck yeah, here we are.’
Jeff: For the last year and a half or so, I was working at a nonprofit helping low income kids go to college. I love my kids, I love my job — and I just quit the job so that we could do this. Every day, I would have a lull in my work and I would be like, ‘Jeromes Dream.’ I’d start thinking about it and Erik said it perfectly to me one day: he’s doing design stuff, and he’s like, all I wanna do is the band. That’s all I want to do; I felt the same way.
Erik: That’s really scary when you’re 40.
Jeff: Yeah. I’m a parent. and a husband.
Nick: I’m still young here. (all laugh)
Erik: But it’s a scary thing to be so clear on your decision at this [later] point in your life. This isn’t about the money, but if we can lean into this fully and trust that the intentions will reach people and people will give back — I don’t mean monetarily, but — in terms of recreating our community, and nurturing a culture that really shaped us…. I feel like it’s now or never, you know?
But you have something going for you in addition to your chemistry: other massive bands in this community that adore you. Loma Prieta, Vein, Touché Amore area all sharing the stage with Jeromes Dream. How does it feel to be embraced like that?
Jeff: It’s kind of nuts. For me personally, I’ve fallen out of this world, being a parent and a husband and educator — so I didn’t even know about these bands. We came back in, and I had to start doing my homework; it’s been really fun. I went to my first DIY show in like 15 years — Shawn from Loma’s other band played in Oakland, and it felt like the old days.
Erik: We’d never met Loma before this tour, but we wrote them to ask if they’d be interested in sharing a stage with us. Immediately they wrote back, and we entered into a dialogue. Here we are hitting the ground running, and suddenly it just feels like everything is intact — there’s an immediate support between all the other bands on each bill. For example, tonight, Lytic is comprised of a member of Saetia and Off Minor. Jamie is a fucking doctor and he like, ran from his shift, and he’s setting up merch in scrubs. That’s a true punk, man.
Basically, we’re overwhelmed by the open arms of all of these bands. When a band like Touché Amore writes to us out of the blue, it’s like, ‘Holy shit.’ That means a lot to us, that people who are still doing it at that level are asking us if we would like to join them to be a part of their thing.
As we discussed, you’re playing mostly new music each night. Are you happy with how the new record turned out, and how people are receiving it at your shows?
Jeff: I’m extremely happy with how it came out — to me it doesn’t seem like we were only together for 10 days here, 10 days there, in order to write it.
Erik: I think the LP is an accurate marker of our headspace. I think [just as] expressive as our older records…but it’s the most musical record we’ve done. It still has a rawness that we’ve always loved about punk, and that had a lot to do with who we collaborated with in recording it, Jack Shirley. He was such a pleasure to work with because he understood our circumstances and made us feel safe while doing it. He knew we’ve been away from it all, but made us forget that that was even the case. There was no indication of judgment or anything. We couldn’t have been happier with that experience and the fact that he has worked with bands that we admire: Loma Prieta, Deafheaven, Gouge Away. Burnt Sugar is a fucking sick record! So we’re really honored to be sort of in that circle.
What’s it like for you to play in such an aggressive music scene today, 20 years later?
Erik: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to compartmentalize that [angry] place, whereas when I was a kid, I was wearing aggression on my sleeve the whole time. My lens of the world was anger. And I think a lot of younger kids feel that way ‘cause they don’t know exactly where to put it or what to do with it. That’s one of the reasons why you start a band: we didn’t know what else to do. But as you get older, everyone has a level of emotion or anger or sadness they medicate with different things — whether it’s drugs, exercise, sex…. And I think music has provided that expressive channel for me. When we’re about to play or something, I can open the lid. And then when we’re done I can close it and just be an adult.
Seeing as fans are still just as passionate about Jeromes Dream today, what do you see for the future of the band?
Erik: In an ideal world, we’ll keep playing these songs and keep touring. And I was just saying to Jeff earlier that I already want to start writing more music. But I think in any immediate terms, it’s about us having a level of presence now, here. We haven’t been on tour as a band in a long time, and sometimes when you’re traveling it’s like, ‘I really want to go home’ or ‘I’m thinking about my bed,’ but I personally am not thinking about that at all. I’m thinking about just doing this and being completely immersed.
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