The Silent Comedy finds Peace of Mind as Enemies Multiply: Interview with Josh Zimmerman
Unless you play bass for Metallica, its rare to get a true insider’s and outsider’s look at a band. Somehow, I’ve found myself on the road, on stage, and in the crowd watching The Silent Comedy. The first time I met the band was in late 2013 at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. A roaring 5-piece, the boys were straddling rock and roots music, layering in the fuzzed-out sonic boom of guitarist Elijah Ford with the hard-edged indie foundation of the big four; banjo/mandolinist Justin Buchanan, drummer Chad Lee, keyboardist/guitarist/singer Jeremiah Zimmerman and bassist/singer Joshua Zimmerman.
Josh and I were the last to meet. On stage, he was more predator than prey – carefully stalking each song before beating the notes out of his bass and howling like a forlorn soul, lost between confession and exorcism. Off stage, Josh would prove far more contemplative and often soft-spoken, but I wouldn’t get to know him until months later.
By the following spring, I was on stage picking up the extracurricular guitar duties for a pair of sold-out shows at the Casbah in San Diego before heading to SXSW for a lifetime of bonding over seven shows in six days. Fresh off of the release of their Friend’s Divide EP, the band was working to balance the acoustic instrumentation that gave them their start and the newer high voltage rock n’ roll.
With the release of Enemies Multiply, The Silent Comedy complete the second half of a companion album project, solidifying the sound and songs that have been brewing below the surface for a while. Deemed “too dark” by management and label alike, the band reconnected with its DIY roots, opting to release the album themselves, maintain control and collaborate as they – and only they – saw fit.
Enemies Multiply is not only a step towards their DIY ethos, it’s a mainline into the creative process and family dynamic that both ignited and continues to sustain the band. At the center of it all are two brothers, raised on the Gospel, road worn, complex and relentless. The new album doesn’t put you in the van, but it does connect you to the heart of The Silent Comedy in a way that no album has before.
I was fortunate to play on a pair of songs for the album, “Heaven and Hell” and “California Queen” and that’s where my conversation with Joshua Zimmerman starts.
NL: “Heaven and Hell” turned out cool man, I hadn’t heard it mixed.
JZ: “Heaven and Hell” represents the vibe of the show the best. I don’t know if we’ve ever captured that energy on a track before. It’s pretty cool.
NL: Hell yeah (Laughs) so the Friends Divide EP is a companion to the new album, Enemies Multiply. Where did the companion concept come from?
JZ: The original vision was to release that full length directly on the heels of the EP and have them be true companion pieces. Instead, we waited longer. All the themes on the full length and the imagery, and the cinematic arch of it, the EP really is like an intro to the full length. We wanted the full length to be more rock n’ roll and more full band so we included some of those different aspects of our sound on the EP.
NL: Where did “Friends Divide and Enemies Multiple” come from?
JZ: Jer had been toying with this concept, paraphrasing this old proverbial phrase and landing with Enemies Multiply. It represents a lot of what we were going through at the time. You know, there is a lot of tension and repercussions that come from being a local band with a tight-knit community in town and moving on to touring nationally and internationally. There is a lot of fallout that happens – I think to pretty much everyone that goes through that journey. We were experiencing that heavily. The titles really reflect the place we were coming from around that period of time.
NL: Between the Friends Divide EP and Enemies Multiply LP you toured Europe, did some festivals and short runs, what was that time like?
JZ: It was really interesting. We toured hard for a number of years with almost no real significant time off. I think we all needed some time off, which is part of what we enjoyed during that break. It also allowed us to kind of take a step back and get perspective on the sound, the songs, who we were as a band, what we wanted to do and doing the European tour was an experiment in a lot of ways. Over the course of The Silent Comedy’s history, we’ve had varying lineups, varying sizes of bands. We’ve had up to 14 performers on stage and the European tour we did with just the four of us. We stripped everything away and really got down to the core of these songs and that was a really great learning experience for us – to try to go back to being this lean mean rock n’ roll machine. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways.
NL: How did stripping back to the four of you change the recording and development of the new album, or has that been more or less in place since Friends Divide?
JZ: The sound was pretty much in place but it was the first time where we recorded a lot of stuff that wasn’t a product of the live show. Before, we would’ve road tested all of this material, it would’ve evolved in front of people and we would’ve tried to capture that live performance in a recording somehow. Both Friends Divide and Enemies Multiply were comprised mostly of songs that hadn’t been performed for people. On the European tour it was a challenge to figure out how we would perform some of these tracks that had a lot more layering and production. How do we bring that to the show and also how do we marry it with our older material that really has a different vibe? Every night was like a little laboratory experiment. We were making changes throughout the whole six weeks.
NL: Are you going to keep it lean and mean for other shows?
JZ: Nah, I think what we learned is that we really like bringing other people into the live performance. We’ve had the privilege of playing with some really great musicians and everyone brings their own flavor to it. When we add more musicians and are playing with more elements the sound can be drastically different. So I think coming back, I really want to add more musicians. We aren’t 100% sure how many yet, but I definitely want to add a couple more layers that reflect the way we recorded this album. We had Gospel singers, more group vocalists, a lot more synths, so we want to bring that to the live show.
NL: So the album is surprisingly dark. (Laughs)
NL: The Silent Comedy has always been misleading in a sense, while the image and revival-like atmosphere of the live show is very uplifting, the actual subject matter is often dark. The new album, feels the darkest yet, is that something that was thought about or is that just where the band was at?
JZ: Jer and I didn’t sit down and say, “lets make it darker.” In a lot of ways it was an evolution of bringing the sound to a place where it reflects more of what we were talking about lyrically. There was also what we were seeing and experiencing in the world, and turning that into a creative product. We were seeing a lot of darkness, I mean we always have but it was more palpable at that moment. In the time period from when we were first writing that material to when we’re putting it out I think our gut instinct about the direction things were headed socially was correct. We are in a darker period of time now in the United States that reflects what we were already feeling and looking towards. It’s interesting, the intention with this record was to, for the first time, put it out with a larger label behind it and we shopped it around to a lot of different people and one of the big elements that people took issue with from the label side was that it was too dark. A point of feedback that we kept getting was, “People just want happy music right now – new disco and stuff like that.” It’s funny, what people are paying attention to and the way that people are getting involved socially right now is more inline with this record than it has been in the last couple of years. That’s kind of our hope, that this record will match the feeling people are having in our American culture, and it will be not only a little bit of a cathartic release but also there will be a little bit of comfort scattered in there as well. Really its a collection of songs for dark times and we hope that it has a real place in people’s lives right now.
NL: If it was a folk-revival record you could’ve just named it Songs for Dark Times. (Laughs)
NL: In 1967 Bob Dylan released John Wesley Harding, which was hailed as the first biblical album or the first album that read like Proverbs. For The Silent Comedy, that element seems to only grow from early songs like “The Well” where you are having fun with the theatrical tropes of the gospel to the new songs that offer a more sincere reflection on that perspective. This album is your most proverbial to date.
JZ: Yeah its interesting, some of our older material definitely comes off as a little more tongue-in-cheek, having fun with our background from a Pentecostal perspective, being raised in that world. Songs like “30 Coins” and “Peace of Mind” are steeped in religious imagery but also sounds and inspiration of the gospel world. I think probably what happened is, we were feeling, Jeremiah and I, at the time rundown and kind of at the end of our rope in a lot of ways so we turned to the old time spiritual and the hymn structure as a point of comfort. And I think that is why this stuff comes off as quite a bit more honest on those themes and that sound, because it really was for us. “Peace of Mind” is probably the most honest Jeremiah and I have ever been songwriting. We put it in this form that is so intertwined with who we are because of how we were raised. It essentially is a Hymn. I think it was a natural extension of where we were at at the time.
NL: When you’re raised with a spiritual ideology, whatever it is, it seems like its never really leaves you. Its always there and it manifests creatively.
JZ: Especially in dark times. “Peace of Mind” was written completely from a place of desperation and exhaustion. It was really cool because Jer and I essentially sat down at a piano trading off verses and kept coming back to that chorus refrain, and that’s the way that we first began writing songs together. Over the course of touring our songwriting processes became more distant, and that song kind of came back to the beginning, to the core of our creative process. Also songs like “30 Coins” – the refrain, “Can you feel it, burning like fire?” Over the ups and downs and all kinds of touring experiences Jer would often just play that on a guitar and the whole band would join in singing almost as like a comforting ritual, like how you connect with hymns and so, that songs has a really special place in our heart. It has this emotional connection that really gets down to our core.
NL: In a time when the social landscape is equally touting nostalgia and hyper-progressivism as the answer, even though Enemies Multiply is a dark album, it is oddly sincere and balanced. I think that is what’s most striking.
JZ: Yeah that’s what we wanted to do. We really wanted to lay it out so that you can exorcise your feelings of anger, frustration and desperation about whatever is happening in your life, but you can also take comfort too. That was the intention, to have that balance without being saccharine or having a less than sincere outlook on just how difficult life can get.
NL: “Peace of Mind” is close to the band’s heart, but if somebody was going to give one song a chance, which one would give them the best picture of the album and the band, as it is today?
JZ: “Avalanche” is the best representation of the album because it is a big hooky rock n roll sound that is different than who we were at the outset of the band. Anyone who was a fan of ours when we were playing dive bars in San Diego, if they were to listen to that track they wouldn’t have thought that that’s where our sound would end up. All the themes of the album are in that song. It’s dark, but it’s defiant in the face of that darkness.
NL: The record comes out October 19th, digital and vinyl?
JZ: I’m really excited about the limited edition vinyl because we’ve never gone that elaborate. We’ve also never brought in an outside designer to work with us for any of our records, Jer and I have done all of it in the past so this record is a real turning point in that way. Our designer Paul Drohan, who worked on it, really took the themes and the feeling of the album and internalized them and created this beautiful artwork. That isn’t something we would’ve ever done so its been cool to have this collaborative process of seeing how our thoughts and songwriting influenced another artist to create this beautiful thing. The vinyl is going to be amazing, I’m so excited for people to see that because it really is a different level of artwork than we’ve ever done before.
NL: What’s next for the band?
JZ: We are doing a handful of shows to promote the release. We’re also focusing on more digital distribution, which is something that we haven’t really focused on in the past. This record almost didn’t come out. It had been put on a shelf by us and we were potentially just going to leave it there. So the intention is really just to bring it to people. We want to get it into as many people’s hands as we can, especially people who have been fans of the band for a while. It’s been a while since we’ve done a full US tour and so we’ll play it by ear and see what the reaction is.
For more information on The Silent Comedy visit thesilentcomedy.com
To pre-order Enimies Multiply Click Here
**All Photography provided courtesy of The Joelsons
(Ed. note: This interview has been edited for length.)