The new sound of the South? Coliseum brings it.
LA Weekly caught up with Coliseum's front man Ryan Patterson to talk about working with Will Oldham on their new record House With A Curse, the music of Louisville, and the ever-evolving idea of punk.
What's the music community like in Louisville?
I'm 33 years old, I'm a fourth generation Louisvillian. I formed the band in fall of 2003 after many years in bands that lasted for a year or two and fizzled out.
There is no specific sound in Lousiville, but a greater music community that is all closely connected and shares fairly similar ways of approaching music, even if the music all sounds entirely different. From Squirrel Bait to Slint to Endpoint to Rodan to current bands like Coliseum and Young Widows, we are all part of a relatively small group of people who create music that avoids specific genre trappings and looks to forge its own unique path while having strong roots in the underground community.
How has being based in Kentucky helped or hindered your career?
I suppose bands in New York or Los Angeles may have certain advantages because so many people look to those cities for new music, but at the same time they are both over-saturated and fairly susceptible to musical trends. Louisville is a reasonably large city, but has a small town pace of life and incredibly low cost of living, we can afford to tour heavily and retain artistic autonomy without the incredible financial strain we'd face by living in a larger city.
How did you get Louisville's Will "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" Oldham involved with the album, and what did he add to the record?
I knew Will a little from putting on a show for him a few years back, so I wrote him and asked him to sing on a couple of songs with us. He graciously accepted and it was wonderful to have him on the record, I'm a big fan of his music and his voice is so unique. His addition to "Skeleton Smile" was really special, it's very haunting and completely unlike anything you'd heard either him or us do before.
How do you think living Louisville has influenced the music you make?
I grew up going to shows in Louisville and was exposed to a lot of great touring bands and a very inspiring local scene. Musically it was never a town that was focused on one specific thing, there was an acceptance of so many different sounds and ideas that was impossible to become one-sided as a music fan.
There was also a focus on ethics and broad liberal socio-political ideals, I think a lot of this in Louisville was inspired by the Washington DC / Dischord scene both musically and politically. All of that, along with the great history of music, definitely had a big impact on me and shaped me as a person and musician.
What's your definition of punk?
I often think of it as living within society, but outside of its lines. Punk as I see it as an adult is not about rebellion but about living a life that is not bound by the norms or mores of what was laid out in front of you throughout your life. In simple terms it's about thinking for yourself, asking questions, searching for answers, and being a part of a greater community and ideal that also revolves around music and art. Realistically, it's nearly impossible to define and everyone has their own interpretation, but that's part of the beauty of it; there's no doctrine to follow or weigh you down.
As you've gotten older how has your relationship with the ideology of punk evolved?
As I've become an adult, it's less about rebellion because you've already rebelled, you have removed yourself from the conveyor belt. It's about choosing how and where you spend your money, it's about being a part of your local and global communities, it's about actively living in opposition to those that prevent others from living the lives they've chosen for themselves. It's about experiencing new things and letting these experiences shape your perception. It's about creating and helping supporting others who are creating. It's about starting and maintaining your own businesses that operate ethically and aren't focused on greed, business that can help others to avoid diving into the grinder that chews us up and spits us out.
Why do you keep the band as a trio? Do you feel any limitations with the power trio set up?
There was a time when we felt limited as a trio, but during the writing of House With A Curse we finally used it to our advantage and gave each player a more defined role. This is the first Coliseum record that has had a strong focus on the rhythm section, making the bass and drums the backbone of the song and letting the guitar and vocals focus more on melody and texture. On our early records when we had a second guitarist we didn't really use it to its fullest advantage, as the band was mostly riff-focused at the time. I don't see us ever adding an additional guitarist to the band, three members is easier on many different levels and I don't feel limited at all by being the only guitarist. The connection between the three of us is so strong, I'd hate to mess that up by adding another ingredient to the recipe.
Some harder-edged bands face a difficult decision with each record that they put out. They have to decide whether to play louder, faster and more aggressively or to explore more slower, more melodic song structures. How do you balance your music to make it accessible, but not sacrifice anything for your hardcore fans?
Honestly, we don't worry about that, we write music that appeals to us and makes us happy. Aiming to please anyone else is going to make life very difficult, at least it would for us. We put out the best music we can, we are very serious about it and are very critical of what makes it on to our records. I feel that anyone who truly digs the band likes the music we write and is less concerned about how it fits into any specific genre trappings. There has never been an attempt to make anything any more accessible or to pander to anyone, be it our fans or others' fans. We do what moves us and what we feel passionate about musically.
If you didn't play music, what do you think you'd be doing right now?
All I've wanted to do since I was 12 or 13 was be in a band. At the same time, while that's always been my primary focus, it's never been all that I do. I'm a freelance designer and I am the co-owner of ShirtKiller.com, an online store for bands, so I would imagine I would still be very much involved in art and design. Who knows though... My other great passion is in films, so maybe I would've been a director or actor. I did do some local theatre acting as a kid. Maybe Sons Of Anarchy will hire me as an extra and I can be the Henry Rollins of my generation.
What is your vision of the band in 5 years from now?
I really don't know... My goal has always been to keep the band going for many years and have it evolve with our lives, to have it become something that we can do for as long as we choose to continue. But, we've been touring heavily for six years and we are still a very small band. We have accomplished a lot, much more than I even imagined we would, but it's always been an uphill battle and there are still some very humble and realistic levels of success that we have yet to attain.
There are times that it seems as though it is pointless to continue on in the way we have, that's it's impossible to ever get to the point where it continues to make sense to tour for many months of every year or spend thousands of dollars recording albums. At the same time, there are experiences that are so wonderful and transcendent, where some of our greatest dreams have come true, that fill us with so much excitement and inspiration that the idea of stopping or even slowing down seems ludicrous.
I suppose for every soul-crushingly bad show, there are have been many more mind blowing moments that reconfirm our commitment to this mission.
So we persevere. Where that takes us in five years or fifty years, who knows.