Rival Schools (2011)

I got Rival SchoolsUnited by Fate for Christmas 2001 from my surprisingly switched on Auntie. I’d seen the video for Used For Glue a million times over the summer and hadn’t really heard anything like it before. Then, all of a sudden, I unwrapped it at Christmas and played it to death.

The album was an eye – and ear – opener, because it was one of the first I’d heard in which every song was different to the last. It would take me a while to identify and contextualise some of these sounds, influences and references, but at the time, it felt like one of the most varied and mature albums I’d ever heard – although, being only 15, I suppose that wasn’t as dramatic a feat as I just made it sound. Still, it had a huge impact on me and my developing music tastes.

It had lyrics I had to strain to listen to and understand; there were complex layers of sound and noises coming from guitars that I’d never heard before, and there were choruses; mighty, banging choruses amid all the other curious moving parts that still linger with me to this day.

In my opinion, it remains a fantastic album. Timeless even, given that it never draws from any one time period or genre or any kind of notion, style or reference that would date it or tie it to one particular time period. At times it’s 90s post-hardcore, and at others it’s 70s radio rock – in a great way.

If you aren’t familiar already with the band, I would recommend checking out their first album, United by Fate, as well as connected bands such as New York Hardcore legends Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today and 90s post-hardcore heavyweights Quicksand – all of which feature singer Walter Schriefels and drummer Sam Siegler – and also Siegler’s old band Glassjaw. Guitarist Ian Love and bassist Cache Tolman have been in other bands too – in fact, Ian Love played with one of my teen faves, Onelinedrawing for a while – but I would suggest taking some time to investigate it all fully yourselves.

Anyway, I was excited to see the band twice after they reformed and later I got to interview them in advance of the release of their long overdue second album, Pedals. It was a conference call but it was pretty much only Walter Schreifels answering. The interview is a bit jumbled and I noticed later that I repeated myself a bit, but there are some nice little pieces of conversation in there, especially if you’re a fan of the band.

(Interview was late 2010 I think. Also, here‘s a link to an extra piece I did about the album, Pedals, track by track.)

Can you tell me a bit about how you first went on hiatus?

Walter Schreifels: We made that record and went through all the processes of writing it and making and waiting for it to come out and touring with it; we toured the world, we went to Australia, Japan, the states, Europe and it was a lot of fun. But towards the end it was like a few years had passed and I think we just felt a little burned out and we were all trying do a few different things and what was at first supposed to be a short break turned into a much longer break. It’s amazing how things happen in life. We were all doing different projects, making babies and having… life.

What as your motivation to reconvene with the band after being involved with so many things?

WS: We were talking about it but then at a certain point it was like OK, if we’re really gonna do this, we know how long it takes if you get that wrong again, so if we are gonna do it, lets do it now. Because you can only wait so long. We’d been talking about it and we were able to play some music here and there but about three years ago we started to get serious and booked some shows. So we did that and we wrote some new songs and played some older songs that were never released and started messing around and making this record.

Did you have the makings of a second album before the hiatus?

WS: After United by Fate we’d written a bunch of other songs that were like demos for a follow-up album and we just left it at that. The motivation of getting back together and making this happen was really just that we left this positive thing just hanging in the wind and we wanted to swallow it up and get into it. It was a challenge and we picked up some of the pieces of work that we had done and we kinda built a new story. This stuff never really comes easy actually but it worked out pretty nicely and we’re all pretty happy to be sitting here talking about our new album. It’s been a long and winding road.

The longer you left it did you feel it was harder to live up to United by fate?

WS: Personally, I just thought it wouldn’t be too hard to top it, in my mind. I just thought we were capable of doing something even more interesting or better. Beyond that, you can’t set out any more than we set out to make something. You always try to make the best thing you can make. To make United By Fate out to be like Sgt Pepper’s and we have to follow it up; it’s not productive. We went at it the same way we went at United By Fate, which is we’d write some songs, bang them out, and the parts we thought were cool we’d try to work on them more, and the parts that were kind of boring we’d try to get rid of them and that’s the process. This album was actually way more fun to make, the process was a lot more enjoyable.

Do you think it was worthwhile having that space in between?

WS: If I had a preference I’d prefer to be on our sixth album right now. I’m really happy that we do have this album and we do have an opportunity not only to have this record come out and have people get into our new stuff and be able to go out and play but to also kind of rebuild the runway here to make more music, and it wasn’t nothing to put it back together. We’ve all had a sense of accomplishment but it’s also a sense of opportunity.

So, coming together again after so many years, what makes this Rival Schools and not just the sum of your parts?

WS: We are all just individual, interesting people I hope. I think we’re part of a musical tradition. Me and Sam have been playing for like 20 something years in hardcore bands, pretty much since we were, like, teenagers and we’ve come from that initial shot to coming to this point, and I think it’s all part of a musical tradition stemming from the original things. I think we’re all still just exploring outward and trying to do new things, and I think that makes it interesting. The four of us have known each other and played in bands and been in bands together and been fans of each other’s bands and it’s kind of a special thing. Whether a person listening to our songs gives a shit about that or not I think it just kinda comes through that there’s a certain integrity to it and that’s what I like about it; that it is part of something bigger in that sense. I think that that’s rare now. I think bands now have a harder time developing any sort of roots because shit turns over every five minutes; that’s not the case with us.

There’s been a lot of industry changes since United by Fate, are you at all surprised that people are still showing their love?

WS: I think it’s an amazing thing. It’s nothing to rest on, it’s just a wonderful thing. When you make music you want to make a connection with an audience and have it mean something to you. It’s inspiring more than anything. We want to make something that tells another chapter to the story and build on that and build that sense of community and that sense that we’ve shared something. It’s wonderful that our music has meant something or means something to people in that way because that’s the way we feel about it as well.

Iain Love: When we started playing again three years ago and playing all the songs from United by Fate and with everybody singing along to every song, it really sort of solidified for me, you know ‘we should be doing this, we should be making another record’. You know, years later these songs are still meaning something, to these people at least, and us, and I don’t think that happens very often and if it happens to a band it’s something to really pay attention to; it means that you’ve got something. Something good.

Do you think it’s difficult these to capture people’s attention these days, a time where everything is so flash in the pan?

WS: The lesson I’ve learned from it is, I look at magazines from three years ago and look at all the bands they’re saying is the next top shit and then they don’t exist anymore. I mean that was when magazines existed. Magazines aren’t really driving it anymore. It’s about blogs and stuff like that. I think that people are still finding ways to enjoy music and to make relationships with the artists they admire, I think that hasn’t changed. But there’s such a high turnover, it’s just so difficult to find something that’s rooted. We were lucky when our album came out. I think in some ways – and this is from other people telling me and what’s reflected in our shows – there was something special when our album came out. It connected with people in a way, not just because we had a catchy chorus in a song, I think people really fertilised the album in some way, and that’s really something special. I feel that with coming back and making another record and everything that comes with it, I feel the same way about that. Sometimes it can be a pain in the ass but you have to be committed to it, you have to have that belief and you have to enjoy it.

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