The Appleseed Cast: Album By Album With Chris Crisci
The late ’90s was a magical time for emo. The Golden Age at the turn of the aughts gave us masterpieces from the likes of Jimmy Eat World, Mineral, and Sunny Day Real Estate – and yet, once Y2K hit, few bands of the movement would remain in the scene, either splintering apart or running headlong into the mainstream with unabashed radio pop.
Appleseed Cast, however, are one of those rare acts that not only came out of this era unscathed – they got better… and better. Shedding the emotionally wrought, aggressive post-hardcore sound they’d established on their powerful 1998 debut, The End Of The Ring Wars, The Appleseed Cast shifted into a more progressive, lower-key style on their sophomore effort, Mare Vitalis. Though less strained and quieter than its predecessor, Mare Vitalis certainly didn’t lack for intensity – its energy was simply more focused.
By their third and fourth albums, Low Level Owl: Volumes I & II, Appleseed Cast had shouldered deeper into experimental and post-rock territory – and the result would win over the hearts of fans and critics alike. The double release (recorded in the same session in 2000) catapulted them beyond the “emo” playing field into hipster indie rock circles where they were lauded as “America’s closest answer to Radiohead”.
Since then, singer-songwriter Chris Crisci and his ever-changing lineup have released five more albums, each more intriguing than the next. And The Fleeting Light Of Impermanence – the band’s upcoming ninth full-length album and their first in six years – is easily among their best.
Above photo: Matty Taylor
To celebrate this momentous release that comes to us over two decades after the band’s debut, we asked Chris to talk us through The Appleseed Cast’s entire discography, album by album. In the text below, Chris details his most and least favorite parts of each, along with some of the most memorable moments of their corresponding eras.
While you’re enjoying his guided tour, we invite you to listen an exclusive premiere of the latest single from the new record, The Journey. An almost entirely instrumental track that blends elements from every part of Appleseed’s career, the song shimmers with haunting guitar lines and hypnotic synths, pushed along by interwoven live and digital drums that provide powerful dynamic swells:
‘Never lose the fire / you’re gonna need it on this journey,’ Chris chants as some of the few words sung on this track – words he reveals his father once told him. Thankfully, he has taken dad’s advice, as the palpable passion of his band’s latest release proves.
Here’s Chris on every Appleseed Cast album to date:
The End of the Ring Wars (1998)
I moved from San Diego to Los Angeles when I was 22 to try to pursue music. I was very naive – I thought LA was where you wanted to do that. The first person I met and started writing with there was Aaron Pillar. And then through him, I met Jason, our bass player from Lawrence, Kansas. We fell in with some local bands that were in the emo genre, and got schooled on what a scene was.
My favorite album at the time was The Truth About Love by Broken Hearts Are Blue. I loved his voice; I loved the lo-fi recording. Obviously, I loved Sunny Day Real Estate. They’re one of those bands that I can’t even listen to anymore — I wore it out. The two first albums — especially LP2. Also, Christie Front Drive, Mineral, Texas is the Reason, Knapsack… I was just enthralled with that sound.
So my brother recommended this studio in Orange County. We went down there and recorded six songs for a demo with Marigold & Patchwork, Antihero, December 27, Untitled… something like that. I know that 16 Days wasn’t on it because that was from touring on that demo. This lady we know in Austin loved the demo, and sent it to John [Szuch] at Deep Elm Records. [We got signed], and then we went back to that same studio and recorded the rest of the album. At the time, I don’t know if I was aware of what a big deal Deep Elm was.
I have, on rare occasion, heard The End of the Ring Wars being played. One time, in a burrito place in Austin, I heard this guitar feedback playing, and my ears perked up because I love feedback. I was like, ‘This is really good!’ Then I heard my voice, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is our album.’ At this point, I think there are some legitimately good songs on it; there are many parts on it that make me cringe. I think that Marigold & Patchwork is a good song. There’s a lot of good moments on that record. Overall, it shows what an emo enthusiast I was.
Mare Vitalis (2000)
Reviews came out on Ring Wars, and I think the record was pretty good for the time, but there were a lot of comparisons to Sunny Day and Mineral, and it woke me up. I don’t want to be the band that’s good at copying another band; I want to try to find an original voice. I also started getting more into less heavy music; I wanted to do more with clean guitar. If you’re only doing ‘clean’ and ‘distorted,’ you’re missing out on what’s in-between.
The writing of Mare Vitalis was very fast. We had just gotten Josh to play drums, and we were practicing every day in my basement. This was a time when Aaron, Jason, and I were still living together. I feel like we wrote that album in two weeks. I’ve always written the bulk of everything, but of all of the records – except for maybe the new one — it was the most democratically written. Everyone brought parts to the table.
It was our first album in a real studio on tape, and with a producer / engineer that knew what he was doing. Keith [Taylor] in OC had a great studio, and I think that record sounds good, but going into a real studio and recording on tape, and being able to learn how to record — it was the first time that I had even thought about using more than one amp.
It led to a philosophy that I’ve had since then: record the album for the record. Given the amount of instrumentation that we’ve used, it’s pretty obvious that we’re not playing live on the record, and we often omit parts live.
Low Level Owl: Volume I & II (2001)
Every record we’ve lost somebody. From End of Ring Wars we lost Lou, who originally played drums, because he ended up getting married and wanted to move back to LA. I had sworn off living in LA, which is why we moved to Lawrence, Kansas. Going into Low Level Owl, we lost Jason, and that was just that he was tired of touring — there was a little bit of tension between him and Aaron, and he was going to school, so it made sense for him to move on.
Low Level is when the shows started getting bigger. And the funny thing is, the concept was originally going to be two albums: each with two songs made up of a bunch of ambient noise for 40 minutes. When we got to the studio, we were like, ‘We can’t do that!’ But therein lies the reason why there is a lot of ambient influence on that record.
It’s hard to rank ’em, but Mare Vitalis is one of my favorites, and I feel like I was just as enthused with Low Level. Both of those albums I would crank on our stereo just to enjoy.
Two Conversations (2003)
Two Conversations is the most straightforward album, lyrically. I think my intention was to do a rock record again. As much as I loved Low Level, I didn’t want to just start doing… that. I really wanted to reconnect with more intensity in our music, and yet, there were things that happened during the recording of Two Conversations that I didn’t care for. In my mind, I failed at capturing the intensity that I wanted to. For example, I wanted the ending of Innocent Vigilant Ordinary to be so much more intense — but the writing wasn’t there, and there were some mixing choices that I didn’t agree with, although I do think it was mixed well.
For a long time I felt like that record was missing the mark, but now I go back and I really appreciate the writing and the recording. I do think it’s one of our strongest records. I’ve always loved playing those songs.
The shows were awesome. Somewhere between Two Conversations and Peregrine was actually the zenith of our popularity; I was amazed at how big the audiences were. Like, we went to Moscow in 2013, and people were yelling out the lyrics, and I spent at least 30 minutes after the show with a line of people who wanted to give me a hug. It blows my mind that I went to Russia at all — but also that these kids knew our stuff and people liked it.
Peregrine was our first record for Militia Group. Tiger Style folded — we would have stayed with them forever. We loved that record label. Not only were they awesome to work with, but their roster was incredible: Album Leaf, Lucero, The Mercury Program…
We did the album with John Congleton, who we really admired. We’d toured with his band Paper Chase, before I even knew that he recorded bands. And when it came time to record, we loved a 90 Day Men album that he had recorded, To Everybody. We loved the naturalness of the sound of that record; I loved the idea of working with someone new in the studio, and recording on tape.
We booked Pachyderm in Minnesota, and man, it was an amazing experience. I think it was ten days at this house with an indoor pool out in the woods. And 50 feet away is a studio building with floor to ceiling windows looking out to the forest — like a recording vacation, being able to live where you’re recording, which is actually what we did with The Fleeting Light Of Impermanence.
We had a lot of time, and it was great working with John, who was on board with the idea of a more intense record. For example, Woodland Hunter (Part 1) starts off with that lo-fi acoustic guitar, and then busts into feedback. Even Silas’ Knife which starts off almost country-esque, but by the end, it’s just a really intense, loud, hammering [song].
Sagarmatha is the local name of the God of Mount Everest.
After Peregrine, our drummer, Nathan Jr., left the band. He was done with touring, I guess. We had brought on another drummer just as a touring member. At the same time, I was getting really into my folk side project, Old Canes, recording the second record, and I kind of gave up my editing role during the writing of proto-Sagarmatha because I didn’t have the energy. At this point I’m married, I have a one- or two-year-old, so finding time to do one thing was all I could manage. We’d have practices and people would have ideas I didn’t like, but I really didn’t have the energy to direct.
We went into the studio, recorded — and it was embarrassing. I would never in a million years release that record. Specifically, the drumming was not good enough – I’ve always very much been a part of the drum writing. I spent days trying to edit those drums into something that works, but about halfway through, realized that even when the drums are edited, the songs themselves felt derivative.
So I called up Aaron, and said, “Hey, we have to redo this.” I started putting keys to it. I called Ed Rose, who did Mare Vitalis through Two Conversations, and booked time at Black Lodge Studio. I called John Anderson [of Boys Life], who had just worked on the Old Canes record with me — I loved his drumming, so he recorded a bunch of stuff. Aaron recorded a bunch of stuff. We got rid of parts, added parts, re-recorded parts. And Sagarmatha is the end result.
I feel like there are lots of really good parts on it, I don’t think there’s any one song that I’m super enthusiastic about, although there are lots of parts that I love. Any one song all the way through, there’s stuff in there that I’m not super happy with, although I’m more happy with the record as a whole now than I was when it came out.
Between the experience of [recording that album] and touring, people were worn out. I know Aaron was worn out. He was interested in doing his catering business, and I think he was holding onto the band, but he was much more into the catering business. By the time we’d do Illumination Ritual, Aaron had left.
Illumination Ritual (2013)
Aaron was always the only other [writing] contributor, really. He always brought his own parts. Here and there he would actually have a full song. It was a little different without him on Illumination Ritual, although Taylor who filled in for him is an amazing guitar player and a very creative person. So I didn’t feel like we were lacking anything, it was just a little different.
Illumination Ritual also coincided with us not having much of a budget, so I recorded that one at home on some very inexpensive equipment. But it also gave us a lot of time to experiment with our parts and get things the way we wanted them — if not sonically, with the fidelity we would have liked, but at least with the passion we were putting into the record. Overall it was a lot of fun to record, and I still like the songs.
I went 10 years without a day job, which was amazing, but once I got married I’d started working – and have for about 10 years now — at a theater / art space in Kansas City, doing video production and audio engineering. I would work my full-time job and then come home and record. I’m the type of person who tends to procrastinate without a deadline, so I gave one to myself. My wife – an English major and an amazing writer – helped me out with some of the lyrics.
Illumination Ritual is about reckoning and being honest. There was a lot of insecurity about getting older, about moving on to different things in my life, and some reckoning of change and mortality.
The Fleeting Light Of Impermanence (2019)
I had started writing The Fleeting Light Of Impermanence probably five years ago. All told, I wrote 70 Pro Tools sessions worth of songs. And I’ve got probably another 12 songs from that whole time that are viable. But I had to throw a lot away.
We didn’t practice that often. I was super busy with family and work. I was still trying to figure out what I wanted the new record to be like. First, I wanted tons of different instrumentation: strings and horns, and whatever. Then I wanted a pure synth record, just to have every one of our fans hate us!
And then at some point I realized that we’re really a guitar band at heart. I had gone through enough of a period of time just playing other instruments that I started to miss guitar again. Everything I started writing started making sense, and once I had enough good demos, I called the guys and we started practicing.
I couldn’t be happier with the [new line-up]. Sean is super creative; he brought full parts to songs, which is something I’m not used to, and love. I’ve always asked people to contribute as much as they want, and it’s great that Sean can do that. Nick is the perfect drummer for me because he’s super willing to [take suggestions], and I’m so full of drum ideas. He’ll make them better. And Ben is the first actual bass player since Jason. No disrespect to the other guys — they were really good at holding down the changes — but Ben is a bass player. If you listen to Mare Vitalis and Fleeting Light, you’ll hear a difference in the playing from the rest of the catalog.
We recorded at Flat Black Studios in Iowa, and spent a week up there, kinda the same way that we did at Pachyderm, out in the forest. We slept in the studio and had access to it 24 hours a day. The first song on the record, Chaotic Waves, was a product of late night writing.
Lyrically, The Fleeting Light is much clearer. Whereas on Illumination Ritual, I was having feelings of fear and irrelevance and not wanting to become an adult, Fleeting Light is more about knowing that time on Earth is insignificant in the big picture, but it is significant in the context of everyone’s experience. Knowing that should be freeing. Knowing that in our one moment of experience in the universe, it’s okay to try whatever you want. It’s okay to help people, to be vulnerable. People’s opinions of you don’t matter.
Even though it took a long time to get to the point of recording this album, I’m glad we didn’t rush into it; I’m glad that I took the time to figure out all the elements that I wanted. There is still quite a bit of synth on it, and I love that; I’m really happy with how the songs came out. I feel like it’s a better release than we’ve had in a long time.
The Appleseed Cast’s The Fleeting Light Of Impermanence — due out June 28 on Graveface Records — is now available for pre-order. The band is on tour now through September, with more 2019/2020 dates to be announced soon.
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