Artist Spotlight: What Is Post-Rock & Who Are Athletics (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW)

Over the past two months I have fallen in love with a genre of music I had been giving the cold shoulder to and the five boys from New Jersey who made it mesmerizing. The genre is post-rock and the five Jersey boys are Athletics. Post-rock is a genre driven by textures and instrumentals rather than lyrics. I tend to lean towards a song I can sing along to, but there is no denying that this genre evokes a different part of why I love music and that Athletics are something special.

Athletics, made up of Jimmy Boyce, John Cannon, Howie Cohen, Zachary West and Garrett Yaeger, have put out a new record this week for free titled Who You Are Is Not Enough, and it is just beautiful. We had Howie answer some questions about the new album, inspiration and what he sees next for the genre. Take a listen kids, it’s like watching a movie but listening to music. It may not be the kind music you blast at a party, but it is the kind of muisc that tells a story and leaves an impact. Just trust me, #musicrules.

I will let Howie take it from here.

The songs on Who You Are Is Not Enough completely go against any form or structure that most modern rock songs take on, what is the creative process like? How does each song happen?

It was never really our intention to try and write Who You Are Is Not Enough, in this different structure. Garrett had started writing the initial idea for this song years ago, before Athletics became a full band. The song idea had been rewritten and arranged differently a handful of times, thrown out, and then brought back to life on the track “Affliction,” on our debut record Why Aren’t I Home? Garrett started writing using that chord progression, theme, and emotion, and churned out a 30+ minute song. It’s definitely not a traditional modern rock idea, but we never were trying to sound like anything or do anything specific. We’ve just been writing music that we believe in and we’d want to listen to ourselves as music fans. We divided it up into 5 parts, or “movements” with a cohesive flow so listeners can separate the few different parts and ideas on the record. As far as our creative process, we all play a vital part in Athletics’ songwriting, but we really don’t sit down and jam or hash songs out until they’re finished. Usually one of us has an entire song’s structure done before the other 4 or us even touch it and start adding our own ideas. We like it this way and it seems to still be working for us. In the case of this new record, Garrett had the basis of it finished, lyrics and music, and then we all chimed in and layered our own ideas into it.

Post-rock music takes a different approach to lyrics, using them more as another instrument rather than as the sole way of really getting an audience connected. Do you think its hard to connect to an audience with using mostly music instead of a typical hook?

I can definitely see it being a challenge for us and other bands in the same vein. Like you said, we do try to use our lyrics as an instrument. If our songs don’t need that extra instrument in certain parts, we just don’t use it. Our first record clearly has a lot more lyrics, and you could definitely argue a few more “hooks” than our new one. But, it’s not that we had less to say as a band. It’s just what/how we were writing at that point in time. We all love a good hook in a song, but we’ve always been trying to convey our feelings and relate to listeners musically as a whole, and not just a chorus lyric that’s going to get stuck in their head for a few days.

As far as your influences go, do you guys listen to bands that are in your same genre or all different things? Examples?

We all listen to a lot of the same music. As far as “post-rock” bands go, you’d probably get very similar answers from any bands we play with and we’re friends with. Explosions in the Sky is always a go-to, our good friends in Moving Mountains, Sigur Ros, Caspian, I could list bands forever. BUT we all listen to a ton of hardcore, punk, grunge, and singer/songwriter stuff that most definitely is incorporated into our writing styles both individually and as a collective group. You might not expect that most of us can recite every lyric by The Weakerthans, or play just about every Smashing Pumpkins song, or find us at the local punk-night at our favorite venue, but all of that is extremely important to us and it makes this band work.

Why did you guys decide to make the album one song in 5 parts?

Sorry, guess I jumped the gun and answered part of this in the first question. It just happened that way. We never set out to write a 30-minute song. And once we had it done we weren’t even sold on cutting it up in to 5 parts originally. We’ve just been doing what feels right for us as a group and making music in a way that makes us feel good.

The music on this album is really consuming and powerful, when you’re writing the songs do you have particular emotions in mind that you are trying to evoke in listeners or do you think everybody takes something different from the music?

Every song, no matter who’s writing the lyrics or most of the music, definitely carries a ton of personal emotional weight. The new record in particular focuses on the death of a friend and how all of our shortcomings and frustrations since that time do not compare to the loss of someone’s life. Those lyrics, even though there are few of them, also focus on things other than death. We want our listeners, whether they’re watching us play live or hearing us on an iPod, to move the way we do, physically and mentally, when they hear our songs. We get pretty personal with not just our lyrics, but with the music itself. We’re throwing ourselves out there in hopes that there’s people that feel what we’re feeling when we write, and they can use our songs as a relatable outlet.

Where do you guys draw inspiration from for the music that you write? Particularly on this album, is there a storyline?

Again, should have read all these questions first. Whoops. All our music is based on real life experiences we’ve had. A lot of the songs are based on finding ourselves as individuals, relationships (surprise), life, death, and everything in between. If something moves us to write a song, we write it and bring it to the band table. We usually all can relate to each other’s experiences, so 9 out of 10 times there’s a new Athletics song done. Again, the new record covers a lot, but it is a tribute to the death of a friend and also is meant to convey all the hardships we’ve gone through since that time and how we’ve overcome them.

Where do you see the post-rock genre going in the next 5-10 years?

Post-Rock-type bands are really popping up all over the grid, and that’s awesome. I think all of us are still unsure how this “post-rock” thing even came about, and how we fit in, but, we’re alright with it. I think there’s a lot of space opening up in the music world for bands like us once kids come out and see a live show. Most of the bands we know and have seen that write music similar to us are not the guys that get on stage, stand still for 30 minutes and then pack up and go home. They’re also not the guys that get up there with flashy dance moves, auto-tune, and coordinated head bangs. We put everything we have into our live performance, and I know many of our friends do the same (Speaking of friends, you guys should go listen to Gates. They’re an incredible band and good friends. Kevin Dye, their singer, engineered and produced our new record.). Anyways, I think post-rock will keep growing if bands can get out there and play more and more shows to people and make sure that their listeners can physically see how hard they work and how much they care about the music they’re playing, and hear in their songs the message that the band wants to get out there. Basically, I think in the next 5-10 years if things keep progressing like this, you’re going to see a lot more post-rock-type national tours. Big ones.

Why did you release ‘Who You Are Is Not Enough’ for free?

We wanted to give back. Fans have been asking for new music since Deep Elm put our Why Aren’t I Home? In October 2010. We wanted to make this record as accessible as possible, because of all that it means to us personally. Again, it’s that message that we want people to be able to relate to. If we can get it in the hands of more people, then there are going to be more people that understand what we do as a band (like put out a recording of a 30 minute song in 5 parts because we felt like that was the right thing to do). Also, it’s not just for free…. It is a pay what you want model if you’re downloading it through bandcamp. We’re just happy fans are listening to us at all. If people want to put money towards it, they can. Either way, we feel exactly the same about each download. It’s in someone’s hands who can hopefully relate to us on a personal level, and that’s really what this is all about.

Thank you so much for all the awesome questions! Howie/Athletics

You can pick up Who You Are Is Not Enough here for free, and the band’s 2010 release Why Aren’t We Home Yet here.

Let’s talk music, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

What do you think of post-rock?