Though they're named after a Joy Division song, you wouldn't know that Ceremony liked anything but blistering hardcore if all you heard were the band's first two records, both of which are nuclear blasts of cathartic power-violence. But all that began to change with 2010's, Rohnert Park, named for their hometown, an evolution that continued on this year's Zoo, the band's first record for Matador and a major departure from their hardcore roots. For the latest edition of Tell Me About That Album, we spoke to Ceremony singer Ross Ferrar about the band's evolution, about aging gracefully in hardcore and why they don't use Twitter or Facebook. Ceremony play Neumos on November 14th.
Is that the dominating force behind the band? Do you try not to pay attention to press or what the fans are saying? I think what drives most bands is trying to make music that moves themselves. I have a lot of friends that are in bands that are very stuck in their ways on a particular style - '80s hardcore or whatever, and there's something to be said about that, but if you're in a band like we are, that are trying different things, moving over to Matador and playing bigger shows, it's just inevitable to try to do something a little more original than sticking to one genre.
Was that always part of the band's DNA, to evolve? We never talked about it, it was just something that came about. Zoo is such a different record but I was making a transition in my life. When we were making Zoo I had just turned 27. They say around 27 you start to get a little weird.
The rage that dominated your early records is kept to a simmer on Zoo. Have you gotten less nihilistic as you've grown older? I've definitely softened up. I used to be a lot more nihilistic. The lyrics that I would write and the music I was writing were more caustic and harsh-sounding. I've definitely found myself in my living room listening to Belle and Sebastian or Cass McCombs and things like that.
Would your 17-year-old self kick your ass for listening to Belle and Sebastian? [Laughs.] Yeah.
As a hardcore band, I wouldn't think Matador would be in your purview, though your appreciation of Belle and Sebastian probably didn't hurt. Were you looking to switch labels and why Matador, which is also home to another ambitious hardcore band Fucked Up? We didn't get any offers from any other labels. It wasn't like Sub Pop was asking us, but I knew Robbie at Matador and it was just one of those things that fell into our lap. When we wrote Ruined and Violence Violence and Still Nothing Moves You we weren't thinking about Matador at all. But when Rohnert Park came out we wrote that song "The Doldrums," which is a little bit on the indie rock side. As we got older, we started listening to a lot of different music, and Matador has these bands that are super-influential.
Who are the seminal Matador bands to you? Pavement is a huge one, Sonic Youth. I mean they didn't put out their original records on it, but The Eternal, which they just put out is really, really amazing. I was really surprised when I heard that. They're still kicking out the jams.
Can you talk about the album's title and how you arrived at it? We were going through a small list of different things we were going to call it and a lot of them were song titles like "World Blue" or "Community Service." "Community Service" was cool because it sounded a little bit on the punk edge and it's kind of ambiguous, but in the end we thought maybe we'll name it something ambiguous but which doesn't have any wrap to the record. The songs that I was writing were about humans and the way we treat each other and the strange nature that we have, and I thought Zoo was a nice analogy for the animals/humans, living in society, not cage-like, but sometimes you feel trapped.
Can you tell me about the cover art and the concept behind it? I can't tell anyone about the cover, it's a secret. Only maybe four or five people know what the cover is. We might get in trouble if we were to put that information out in the world.
Well can you talk about it in a way that doesn't reveal who it is a picture of?
Well can you talk about it in a way that doesn't reveal who it is a picture of?It was a project I was working on where I was taking photos of movies that I was watching and TV shows. It kind of goes with the record and the voyeuristic nature of human beings and how we watch these strange television shows. That is a picture I took of a certain television show I was watching at the time.
And the reason you'd get in trouble presumably is that you don't have that person's permission to use them on the cover? Yeah, definitely.
Are aesthetics an important part of being in a band to you? It's a huge part of it because face value is what everyone gets first. They see a record cover or they see a shirt or they see you play live - those are the biggest things as a band. Even if you're searching for the record to hear that band, you're looking at the cover. I think sometimes we don't give aesthetics enough attention. It's a very, very important thing.
Is part of the band's aesthetic to be ambiguous? One of your promo photos for this album has all of you blurry and unrecognizable. Are you trying to disassociate your own images from your music? That picture was an idea that [drummer Jake Casarotti] had that kind of tied into the voyeuristic thing I was doing, where he took photos of us on his phone and then put them onto a computer screen and then took another picture of it. That was the first promo photo that we'd ever taken.
Is the band pictured on any of your records? No, we hadn't done that before. We just didn't like the way promo photos looked. We do them now because Matador is a different story as far as being a band - I don't want to say business-like, but more proper. I have no problems with taking promo pictures now.
In a way, it sounds like your whole band philosophy has evolved along with your sound. We're living in a culture where everything is seen all the time and everybody is out there - Facebook, Twitter. You can see anything you want about any celebrity. And I think as far as bands go it's definitely nice to have a little bit of mystery there because it keeps your mind wandering about it.
Right -- you don't have a Twitter or Facebook page, which seems counterintuitive to how most bands operate these days, especially punk bands, which generally try and remove the barrier between band and fan. I think people spend too much time on this celebrity-esque issue and sometimes they don't focus enough on the music. Image is a huge thing for a lot of bands and being a punk band the ethics are more in tune to the live show. For us, we don't want people to be finding out our personal information or looking at what we wear.
Are there hardcore bands that you think have aged gracefully? I like the idea that bands can stop playing music but they don't break up, because there's a lot of bands right now that are doing reunion shows or getting back together to do a string of shows. But take a band like Fugazi, they just stopped playing shows. They didn't have this big breakup. I really respect that.