By Zack Comeau
Arts & Features Editor
On a Saturday night, in the heart and soul of the hardcore music scene of Massachusetts, Immolate prepares to take the stage at Anchors Up in Haverhill, one of the premier venues for hardcore shows in the area.
With the walls littered with band stickers and show flyers, Anchors Up provides bands and listeners with a platform where they lose their respective minds.
Immolate is not fazed by the expectations of opening for one of the better-known hardcore bands in the area, Villain. They let their music do the talking – creating an atmosphere of hostility that is echoed in the lyrics.
“The birds fly free, so why can’t we?/ I’m sick of being told who to be/ The birds fly free, so why can’t we?/ I’m looking for a chance for me to be me/ Die, in line,” yells vocalist Jim Muise, sounding like a man plagued by dissatisfaction and resentment.
Rob Pironti’s drum set, like the crowd, has become a victim of the defiance portrayed in the music, suffering blow after blow from his drumsticks, an attack fueled by his aggression and powered by the muscle mass gained from spending a good amount of time lifting weights above the FSU Bookstore.
Pironti, a freshman, is not only seeking to destroy his drums and watch people beat each other senselessly to his band’s music, but he is also seeking an education, which sometimes interrupts his need to rage around a room and hit things.
Immolate, what Pironti calls a “thrashy hardcore band,” is composed of friends from his hometown of Milford, Mass. and surrounding towns. The band’s influences, he said, range from metal to punk.
“No one in Immolate really has the same exact taste in music,” he said. “I personally love bands like Metallica, Merauder and Obituary, whereas Ethan [guitar] loves Mastodon, John [bass] loves the Dead Kennedys, Brendan Keefe [guitar] loves the Misfits, and Jim [vocals] loves Rage Against the Machine and Forfeit.”
Their influences are evident in their music, as they occasionally open a performance with “Bombtrack,” by Rage Against the Machine.
While their passion for music is undeniable, the conflicting schedules and distance between the band members presents issues when planning practices and performances. Pironti and [Ethan] Hall both go to Framingham State, but the other band members are at least an hour away, with the longest being Muise, “somewhere two hours away in Connecticut,” said Pironti. The other member, [John] Francis, attends Bridgewater State University, about an hour’s drive from FSU.
“Transportation,” said Pironti, “is an issue at times because most of us are spread out.”
Although school and work separate the band, Pironti said they can usually practice “at least once per weekend” and can play a show “every month or two” during the school year.
“Fortunately, we’re all home every weekend, except Jim, so we get a decent amount of practice,” he said. “Since we’re at school, we’re limited to only playing shows on Fridays and Saturdays.”
According to Pironti, the band usually performs more while on break from school. He added that they are planning on an East Coast tour in the coming months.
Banded together since the summer of 2010, Immolate has begun performing with well-known area hardcore bands such as Villian and Mountain Man, but Pironti believes the highlight of the band’s existence was a “spree” of house shows to get them jump-started into the hardcore music scene.
Typically, hardcore shows tend to get the rowdiest at small venues, as the crowd, packed into the room like sardines and fueled by the music, can’t help but push, shove and fall into each other. The intimacy of watching hardcore bands such as Immolate play in a small room is coupled with the adrenaline rush of avoiding bodies and fists.
“It’s always awesome playing in tiny spots like that,” said Pironti, who added that the band will be recording their next release sometime in April.
Junior Curtis Emery and his band Settler face similar issues with scheduling and proximity.
Settler, a four piece instrumental band based out of Hudson, Mass., play a brand of music that stirs up more feelings than just anger or frustration. Fusing ambience with indie and a hint of pop-punk, Settler incorporates emotional guitar patterns, mimicking bands like Explosions in the Sky, but adding a bit more enthusiasm and optimism.
Emery cites the band’s influences as ranging from instrumental groups such as This Will Destroy You and Fang Island to post-hardcore acts Pianos Become the Teeth and Tera Melos.
“We all listen to very different music, but our tastes are at least relevant to each other’s, if not the same,” he said, adding that not one of their songs sounds like another, and the variety of tones fluctuates from really soft to heavy and back to somber. “We are whatever we want to be.”
For Emery, the distance in time between practices and performances makes playing music all the more worthwhile, especially when the music he plays can have such an effect on a person’s emotions.
Bassist Emery believes it is “really rewarding to play, even if we don’t always get the chance to play.”
Regardless of the limitations distance and time have on the members of Settler, Emery anticipates an exciting future for the band, and added that the band is currently recording a new EP, although it is unnamed as of now.
The time between practices and shows, however, doesn’t appear to have a lasting effect on their performances. On stage, the members typically do not stay in one place for long, besides Mullen, who, with each strike of a cymbal or snare drum maintains the flow of energy that Settler releases through their music.
According to Emery, his little brother, Thomas, a freshman at UMass Lowell, will often abuse his guitar while using different pedals to create an ambience that dispenses pure, raw emotion into the rest of the band.
Jimmy Mullen, the band’s drummer and and employee at Barnes and Noble, also believes that the time lapses between performances and practices makes the music he plays that much more exciting.
“We practice every now and then, but it’s tough because of our schedules,” said Mullen. We don’t play too many shows, but I personally feel that it makes our shows that much more awesome because they’re limited.”
Despite the challenges of taking time off from school and work, Mullen said the highlight of creating music has been meeting people who only know of them through their music.
“I think we’ve found a way to make it work for us even though we don’t always have time to practice and stuff,” said Mullen, “because our music never becomes stale to play or listen to – for me, at least.”
For others, such as former FSU student P.J. Jefferson, education has taken a backseat to fulfilling a dream. He and the other members of Boston-based Transit took time off from school to pursue their music careers full-time.
Signed to Rise Records along with Man Overboard, Piebald and Hot Water Music, Transit is a pop-punk band, but has recently made a move toward a more indie sound, citing bands like Lifetime, Saves the Day and American Football as influences.
Named one of the “Bands to watch in 2011” by the magazine Alternative Press, Transit has toured extensively throughout North America with pop-punk/indie legends Saves the Day and even a tour of Europe with Title Fight.
At their energetic live shows, listeners form a pile of bodies in front of singer Joe Boynton, eager to grab the microphone and sing along to the lyrics “In my dreams you run back to me, my long lost friend/ Isn’t it amazing in this world that anyone can love anyone at all?”
Fueled by a youthful sense of desire and passion, Transit brings pop-punk fans back to their teen years.
According to Jefferson, Transit can play about 50 shows in as many nights while on tour, which, of course, was impossible to do while the members were in college.
“The highlight of our bands existence,” he said, “has been being able to see this country and playing the music that we love to create.”
While the members were still attending college, juggling school as well as building on the success of Transit was challenging, said Jefferson. “The most difficult part was finding time to tour and travel off the east coast.”
Since the band members have been focusing on their musical careers, the only obstacles they face these days are van issues, equipment malfunctions and the toll on the mind and body of spending countless hours in a van.
According to Jefferson, he and his band mates eventually came to realize that the experiences of touring the world and playing the music they love taught them more about what they wanted to do with their future than a classroom setting typically would.
“There’s not too much that ties together when it comes to playing music and being in school at the same time,” he said. “They take time away from each other and stay separate, which is why it can be difficult to manage both at the same time.”