Progressive metalcore outfit Erra opened the Frozen Flame Tour at a sold-out Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan. last Saturday. Staffer Tim Dodderidge talked to guitarist/clean vocalist Jesse Cash during the show about the implications of touring with a band as big as August Burns Red, where they currently fit in with their initial metalcore influences and more contemporary prog sensibility, and also spills some details and expectations for record number three.
How’s the tour been so far?
It’s been good. It’s been really super sweet shows. There’s been a lot of people. The bands are really nice. So yeah, it’s been as successful as we could ask for, being the opener. It’s been awesome.
You guys grew up with the 2000s metalcore scene, with August Burns Red being one of the biggest bands. What’s it like now getting to tour and hang out with those guys?
It’s definitely really surreal, because they were definitely a big influence for us when we were first forming. August Burns Red, Misery Signals, Born of Osiris, and Saosin were probably the main bands we were influenced by. So it’s really cool. I haven’t really told them that, but I probably will at some point. It’s definitely awesome.
Being the opening band, what have crowd reactions been like for this tour so far?
It’s been generally pretty solid. We play really early, so there’s always people in line when we play, depending on how early they open doors. Sometimes it’s like a line stretched all the way around the corner of the building by the time we get done playing. But I mean, the shows are still always good. Even if there aren’t a lot of people in there, in comparison to what it’s like by the end of the night when ABR comes on, it’s still a lot of people in proportion to what we’re used to. It’s like, if 1,500 people show up by the end of the night, by the time we play there’s still going to be at half of that, so like 600-800 people. It’s been awesome. The reactions have been good for the most part.
It seems like in general you bring in a lot of the more progressive metal fans, but on a tour like this, you’re more on the metalcore or hardcore side. For Sputnik calling you the “most inspired” band in metalcore, how do you take that, and what’s it like playing these kinds of shows?
That’s pretty cool that they said that. I didn’t know that.
I mean, they’re usually pretty critical at times (laughs).
That’s a cool thing to be called. But I mean, I feel like we blend really well with the bands, like Northlane and August Burns Red — particularly those two because they’re melodic, and we obviously, like I said before, are into August Burns Red and we get a lot of association with Northlane. Like, ever since our band started I’ve just heard people tagging our band and Northlane in the same stuff. It’s the downtune, like melodic-ambient kind of stuff. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say we’re more technically progressive than other things out there. We don’t really look at it that way. We just like other bands for what they are. We like our band for what we are. I listen to really simple music. The way I write is just the way I write. We don’t really strive to be necessarily ‘progressive.’ It just kind of comes out that way. Whatever tour we get we’re stoked about.
You guys signed to Sumerian Records last year, swapped a few members, released an EP, and then went out on tour with Born of Osiris. What do you feel about the band’s dynamic has changed after all that?
Everything has changed. It’s like a whole new experience. I think the biggest dynamic musically is a big influence in why we like drop tuning, because we were in drop A sharp for both of our full-lengths, and on the EP, we have three of the five songs in drop G sharp. The biggest influence on that was just the fact that Ian as our vocalist just has a deeper kind of voice. It’s just really heavy. We just figured with dropping tuning this would be the best time because it would just blend better with the way things were sounding. So that was one dynamic that changed the band for sure. Like, when you drop a whole step down, it just changes the way everything sounds. So now I just fiddle with tunings when I write songs and decide what I like better — and I usually like the G sharp ones, actually, and not because it’s the trendy thing to do or the heavy thing to do. I just like the way it sounds, just a really dark sound and very melodic-ambient. It makes everything even more pretty and ambient than it was before. That’s one big dynamic.
I mean, songs like “Warrior” tend to be faster and bouncier than any of your other material. So I could see some of that coming out, too.
Yeah, with the new stuff that’s being worked on currently for the full-length that we’re going to record in the summer, it’s got kind of that bouncy feel to it too. It’s still Erra. There’s still choruses and solos and everything, but it’s more easy to grasp because it’s more structured and bouncy with songs like “Warrior.” That was more of a subconscious thing. We weren’t like, “Let’s sound more groovy like Northlane or Volumes or whatever.” It just kind of naturally happened as we listened to those bands more and more. Maybe it’s a little bit less metalcore, because that’s what kind of got us started. But now we’re kind of progressing into this new kind of sound, which is a more low-tuned ambient kind of sound. I think this new album we’re working on will be the best blend of those two things: the new-wave low-tuned kind of proggy thing that’s happening right now and this huge, dare I say ‘djent’? God (laughs). That, and then also what we came from, which is what we were listening to in ‘07 like August Burns Red and As I Lay Dying and Misery Signals and stuff. We’re trying to blend everything without losing what we started out as, but also progressing into something new and different. I think the balance is working out really well. I’m really excited to record these new songs.
What’s the status of the new record? What’s been written, or have you recorded anything yet?
No, it’s still in the writing phase. It’s super premature right now. There’s no drums or vocals yet. There’s hardly any leads. Generally, when I start working on an album I’ll lay out the foundation of the, like, 12 songs. I’m never writing one song and then like, “Okay, now that song’s finished. Onto the next song.” It’s always flipping back and forth between 12. So the foundation for the album is laid out. I know exactly what I want each song to be. So I have the vision of what it will be in the outcome, but it still doesn’t have those puzzle pieces. The foundation is there, but the puzzle pieces aren’t there, which is, like, the leads and the solos and the choruses and stuff. There’s still a lot of work to do. And when we get home from this tour, our main priority is just finishing the writing process and then by the time we record, the puzzle pieces will be completely aligned in my brain and the rest of the band’s brains. That’s the exciting part, when the mix is done and it’s exactly what you imagined it to be even before you had it written.
What’s inspired this new material you’re working on? Are there any new experiences or emotions on the road? Like, what’s really coming together here?
Well, that’s hard to say at this point in the writing process because lyrics haven’t been written yet. So it’s really going to kind of depend on what comes out of me, like what I start to think about when I sit down and try to put myself in an emotional state of mind, and what is the first thing that will come to my mind. With the EP, the lyrical content just came from the member changes and stuff. With Moments of Clarity, the whole theme of that title and song was just getting to a point, where I especially in the band was getting kind of jaded toward stuff that was happening. Throughout the band, like telling myself and telling ourselves that we were grateful and all of this kind of stuff, and then you get to a point where your actions don’t really align with what you’re telling yourself and what you thought you would feel at this point. So the whole theme of that album was not being ungrateful and not getting jaded, because the fact that we’re doing this and surviving and making music that people like, it’s nothing to be taken for granted. So that’s what that song was about.
It was also just about the member changes and the way it was changing our perception and making us better people when we realize the band now is much easier to get along with as human beings. This is the easiest it’s ever been to be in this band. We all just click and get along so well. No disrespect to anyone that was in the band. We all respected each other. I know that. It’s just that certain kinds of people work together better. So that was the prominent thing that was on my mind when I was writing that album, and also touching on other things like my relationship and stuff like that, which was a big theme of Garrison’s lyrics when he was in the band. So that’ll probably be a continued theme in all music, because that’s the number priority in life: love. That’ll probably get sang about the most. I’m sure that’ll be a big theme and transitions in the band, and we’ll sing a lot about aspirations and intuitions and all of that stuff. I think it’ll be a very – hopefully – inspiring thing as we’ve always tried to be lyrically. Just inspiring people to not be negative and be grateful for stuff.
Where do you think going on big tours like this and putting out new records on bigger labels can take you guys now as a band? A lot of the dirty work is done now.
I think it’s really kind of setting in now, just like the progress points that are jumpstarted by doing all of those tours in a row like this. Yeah, I mean, I can already see that it’s paying off, like when we see people at these shows at the merch table and people are like, “I had never heard of you guys until the Born of Osiris shows, and now I have all of your albums and all of your merch.” That’s what these kinds of tours are for. That’s why bands at our level open these kinds of tours. It’s like the proving ground. You work your ass off for years just to get to this point where you can open a tour like this to see if people give a shit.
If you can open a tour like this and be a small band, and if the crowd doesn’t pick up on it and numbers don’t pick up, like if your merch doesn’t sell more from the tours, your album numbers and your fanbase and stuff like that, if that doesn’t progress, your team will probably stop getting tours like this. So there’s a little bit of pressure. This is, like, the proving ground point in our career to where if we don’t click right now, if we don’t grow heavily from these tours, then there’s something wrong with us and the way we write our music. Thankfully, that is not the case. It’s been really good, like really good reactions and nothing but a sense of progress. So I think that’s a really good sign for the future. I think a year from now we could be two of five on a tour like this, and the year after that three of five, and the year after that maybe headlining a tour of this size when we’re in our late 20s and stuff. That’s definitely the goal objective, just to keep doing exactly what we’re doing so we can do what these headliners are doing, because that’s where we want to be in. That’s the goal.
Last question: how’s your voice doing? I was in there and heard that really high, crackly note at the end. To be honest, it sounded kind of painful.
What, did I hit it?
No, I mean, it just sounded like your voice was going out. These shows probably take a toll on your voice.
Usually I don’t have too much trouble. The first week, especially the first day of every tour, with my voice, it’s kind of tough to make it through a set. Like, I can usually pull it off well enough, but inside I’m just like, “Fuck, this is hard.” But after a weekend and stuff, I’m pretty warmed up at that point. Today in particular, though, we actually started playing an extra song in our set. My voice was definitely not used to it. And I’m sick as fuck, so it definitely was kind of rough to make it through there. But hopefully I made it through well enough and people didn’t think it sucked (laughs).