By now, most know what happened in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday, August 12th. We have been shaken by the tragic and senseless killing of Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist. We saw Nazis, actual ones, in uniform with allies from other hate groups, including the KKK, on the march in the United States. So many voices have spoken up; in defiance and astonishingly, somehow, in defense. Days have passed but the deep wound this has opened in the American psyche won’t close or heal anytime soon.
In the face of actual fascism run amok, we’ve seen people banding together and raising their voices to decry what happened; vows to fight to lift humanity back up from the depths that this racist, homophobic, misogynist, anti-Muslim, anti-semitic demonstration projected into our homes, onto our families, against our friends. Though statesmen may fail us, it is people that will guide us out of this morass. Some of those people are going to be musicians.
In the early hours after the event, an image appeared on the internet, one of many, but this one stuck out for its bluntness and ferocious sincerity. The source? A little known band originally from the heart of Trump territory, Erie, PA’s Deadhorse. The band is a post-rock outfit trafficking in some delicately heavy, piano-laden music which lies in direct contrast to being outspoken on such an issue as the tragedy that happened. Yet, as I find myself trying to make sense of it all, there is something liberating yet properly memorial about their music as the soundtrack for my thoughts about a piece of my home country that died with the young activist, and all we’ve lost before her in this struggle for simple principles like equality, on Saturday.
We took time out to speak with Brian Morgante, the chief architect of their sound, about that post and the state of things through the filter of his band’s music.
HB: On your latest release, “Corruption” which I understand will be part of an album under the name Crescendo, you have a theme at work. Can you tell me more about that and what inspired it?
BM: Deadhorse has been dormant for several years. We were together as an active band up until 2012, and upon completing a long European tour, we came home and all headed in very different directions. To spare all of the details, I finally felt comfortable making music again starting in late 2016 and that is when I started to piece together the songs that would make up Crescendo. So far we have released one of the tracks that will be on the album entitled “Corruption”, and the rest of the album is soon to follow.
Growing up in punk and hardcore, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to create music to share with the world, that music should have some sort of specific meaning behind it. When you get into the post-rock world, sometimes this is frowned upon, as the sounds and atmospheres you create are meant to evoke an abstract. With Deadhorse, I still like the idea of evoking an abstract, but within certain parameters. Every release has had some very specific thoughts and opinions to coincide with what you are hearing the album absolutely falls right in line with that.
On this record we’re trying to catch back up to a world that is in heavy transition, as well as explore our ability to create music after many years of not writing anything. While extremely minimalist in nature from beginning to end, we want listeners to know that Crescendo isn’t a new direction for us, but rather an isolated collection of intentionally minimal arrangements that are inspired by the current downward spiral of modern civilization. With all that’s happening in the world, it felt appropriate to get quiet and create something in response to the current madness. Everywhere you turn, be it global, national, local, personal – there are wars all around us that seem to be building more and more with each passing day. We are a people divided, a culture at odds with itself, a world looking for a new direction. The dissonance is only fueled in our daily interactions and it feels as if we’re headed to a final crescendo – not in an apocalyptic sense – but one where we see that we have no one and nothing to blame but ourselves for ending up here.
You are not going to find songs that are full bodied and overflowing with content. We are overwhelmed with content each and every day, and I wanted this to feel like the opposite of that. There is a time and a place for big, but not here. You also won’t be listening to background sounds. This isn’t an ambient soundscape meant to soothe, but rather to reflect. It feels like you’re just standing in a hot shower with your eyes closed internally screaming at the top of your lungs while the water gently runs down your face. This is an album that comes from a place of exhaustion, a place of confusion. Crescendo is an album that comes from a place of defeat, fear, and anger. These songs are politically charged, emotionally driven, and biased to the direction of the following statements:
- Against the destruction of our planet and our environment.
- Against the needless slaughter of innocent creatures of all species.
- Against the imperialism of all modern nations for global dominance and influence.
- Against the separation of society by means of race, religion, class, and sexual orientation.
- Against the hastened march our civilization is taking towards it’s own destructive demise.
- Against the staggering inequality between the have’s and the have not’s.
- Against bigotry, racism, sexism, classism, speciesism.
HB: You’re from Erie, which is pretty much Trump territory at this particular point in time. How does that play into things for you?
BM: Yes, Deadhorse calls Erie, PA home. Erie follows a similar story line of most rust-belt cities. It’s a place that was once a great manufacturing hub that now clings to what’s left of the old world as the city falls apart around itself. Many of us were born and raised in this area and, even for Erie standards, things are more at odds than ever. Crumbling infrastructure, local political corruption, a vanishing tax base, heroin epidemic, increases in crime, a bankrupt public school system, a debilitated housing market, the list goes on and on. Being a mostly rural county of around 300,000 people and a city center of less than 100,000 people you have an interesting cultural and class divide as well. Erie County was always reliably “blue”, but as the reality around here changes, as the economy tanks, as the individuals that actually make up the current population raise their voice, the county is very much a “red” area through and through. In an effort to keep this short, all I can really say is that it makes for an interesting day-to-day, finding myself smack dab in the middle of an area that I am politically, culturally, and creatively at odds with.
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HB: Does this pick up where Decay left off, in your opinion? Was there a statement you were trying to make on that release?
BM: Deadhorse was slated to record our second full-length album in the fall of 2012, but we had disbanded that summer, and the album wasn’t going to happen. Late that year, Rachel and I had moved to Greensboro, NC to start a new chapter of our lives together. I started my design business (Flesh & Bone Design) and we were hoping to continue music down there. That wasn’t really going to become a reality, so I at least wanted to see some of the song ideas we were working on come to life to share with those that still wanted to hear some new music from us. The songs were roughly recorded at home and released in 2013 as an EP and what I thought was essentially the end. I never wanted to have a distinct “end” to it all, but after those songs were released into the world, music disappeared from my life for years.
I entitled the release Decay because those songs were brought about at a time in my life where music was non-existent. It’s like the forgotten piece of fruit in the back of the fridge that starts to rot and you don’t realize it until it’s too late. For many years my world revolved around music and there was a lot of fulfillment in that creative release. That started to shift for me and that ability started to decay within myself. There were several more ideas and beginnings of songs that I was really excited about that were completely lost to time and a horrible memory. These were some ideas that stuck with me that I wanted to see through and get out there when I still could.
Crescendo in no way picks up where Decay left off. The songs on Decay follow a similar trajectory to the songs on our first full length, We Can Create Our Own World, and some of the areas we wanted to explore coming off of touring for several years with those songs. It’s been 5 years since all of that and it literally feels like a lifetime ago.
Crescendo is like learning how to ride a bike again. It’s rudimentary, it’s the beginning stages of a new evolution of songwriting for me. It’s also meant to act as a bit of a gauge to see who is still out there and is interested in hearing anything from the Deadhorse camp. If there are albums to follow they will be done in a more traditional Deadhorse manner – boisterous, harsh, dynamic, and so on. I’m hoping it’s able to stand on it’s own as a completely separate thought, a completely separate statement, meant for the specifics of these troubled times.
HB: Obviously, the power of social media is flexing for you a little right now what with your recent Facebook post in the wake of Charlottesville getting more attention. What motivated you to speak up?
BM: There’s no “motivation” to speak up, but rather something that feels like an obligation at times. When it comes to social media and weighing in on the current state of the world, it’s a slippery slope because there’s literally something new every single day that you could be addressing. Deadhorse social media has never really been the best and it’s been very dormant for a long time. I’m just getting back into it with the release of new music and trying to make some new plans to move music forward again. From time to time, it’s good to use the Deadhorse platform to remind our listeners where we stand on certain issues and encourage others to do all they can to create the world that we’re all hoping for one day. If anything, events like Charlottesville just further solidify the broader points we’re trying to drive home with the concepts behind the new songs, and unfortunately we’ll continue to see more ugly events and awful days in the near future that will also speak to that narrative. I hope listeners can use these songs as a means of personal reflection and digestion as these events play out in all of our lives.
HB: Did you create that graphic?
BM: Yes, I did. Over the weekend, upon learning about what was happening in Charlottesville, it was made clear that a whole new tide of hate was about to be unleashed upon this country. Whenever these things start to unfold, one of the best immediate responses to get involved, when you are far removed from the physical location, is to tap into that collective creative spirit to help grow support and unity against such atrocious behavior. Within the past year, specifically, you’ve seen a lot of things where people get into arguments and talk about how white supremacy is bad or white supremacy is hateful. It then progressed into white supremacy being wrong, white supremacy being racist, etc. At this point, it was time to call it what it flat out is – terrorism. When any group of people starts to spread a message of supremacy, cleansing, exclusion, etc – this is no longer free speech. These are no longer opinions. When these people murder in cold blood to spread their message – this is a war. This is terror.
HB: Did you imagine such a strong response to it?
BM: Individuals started to share the graphic around social media which was its intent. Again, I just wanted to contribute to the collective creative spirit how I was feeling within that specific moment. Sometimes a simple image is all you need to get a point across and if I can create something of that nature to get into the hands of like-minded individuals I think that is a powerful, humbling thing to do. I’ve done things like this in the past and I’ll continue to do things of this nature in the future.
HB: What has surprised you most about the response?
BM: I’m not really the type of person that tracks down what people are saying for something that is shared across the internet. I will say this, though, I think the biggest surprise for most people with the response to all of this would be the mindsets that “centrists” are sharing. It’s frankly been a bit of a shock to see level-headed, well educated, even “left”-leaning, folks defending the “rights” of these nazis to have a platform to share their message out of the spirit of equality. I’ve had legitimate conversations and arguments with friends and acquaintances that are saying that we need to respect their right to free speech, that we need to stop fighting hate with more hate. That violence is never the answer in any situation, period.
I could write books on something of this nature but, as a unified people, no matter where we stand on individual issues and opinions and worldviews – we should always collectively come together to smash obvious evils that boil to the surface. Groups that want to move forward agendas built on racism, sexism, fundamentalism, classism, dominance, etc. have no place in our modern world. They have no place at the table to share their opinions or reasonably explain their points. They are cowards. They are monsters. They are a collection of the worst traits we as human beings possess and the sooner we can eradicate these traits from our species, the better. Sabotage their efforts. Overpower their numbers. Make them afraid. Use violence when necessary.
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HB: Do you align yourself, and your music, with any particular political outlook or philosophy?
BM: I’m not sure we align Deadhorse with a specific political outlook, overall, but there are a lot of recurring themes that have stayed with the idea of the band from the very beginning. From a very basic standpoint, we would be aligned very far-left but, as with anything in life, there are many gray areas and we are not the type of band nor the type of individuals that discredit people, friends, family, or listeners that have different perspectives than we personally do. Some of us are vegan, some of us are not. Some of us are straight edge, some of us are not. None of us are religious, but all come from conservative religious backgrounds. We all have different worldviews and it would be naive to think that as a band we could even ever agree on a “platform” 100 percent, let alone push that on a whole world of listeners that have their own way of looking at the world. We are still in the business of evoking an abstract within certain parameters. There are certain philosophies and ideals in life that are personal and some that are public. We aren’t trying to tell anyone how to live their life, or how they should view the world. We just want to raise questions that we can all reflect on together. We can tell you what we’re against or what we’re for but, by saying that, we’re not saying that you should always align with us if it doesn’t feel right to you. And we’ll respect that. Unless you’re a nazi. There is zero tolerance for nazis.
HB: What role do you think music should play when we are looking out at a world that is going through, seemingly, massive convulsions and changes? How do you try to address that?
BM: Music, art, and all creative expression should always play a major role within times of transition. There is power in collective creativity and an even greater power in sharing and connecting within that creativity. These sorts of things can easily get pigeonholed to specific expressions (music and fine art) but, especially in this modern era, there are so many different creative outlets where people are doing incredible, powerful, moving, important things. Music is just a small cog in that greater creative machine. When we were touring full-time, before every set I would talk from stage for about 10 minutes about things of this nature. Something I would always say and still hold to today is that as individuals, we all have some sort of creative force within us. That force can be channeled in so many different directions and what works for one person works entirely different for the next. The more we can encourage the growth of those personal creative forces into whatever facet makes the most sense in each other, the greater we can grow a collective creative experience within our communities, within our cities, within our nation, within our world. So, no matter what you are driven to as far as creative expression is concerned, do it as big and as hard and as fast and as loud as you possibly can, for as long as you can, no matter what type of resistance you meet along the way. Never view creativity as a competition but rather a community where we can always grow and always learn from one another, and build each other up with our abilities. Through that type of thinking and action, we can create positive change, we can create resistance, we can create community, and we can create our very own world.
With that, we give you the premiere of Deadhorse’s powerful new video for “Conflict” from the upcoming Crescendo full-length which can be ordered here along with some really sweet merch.