Artist Interview: Stay Inside

Posted: by The Editor

photo by Austin LoCicero

I sometimes feel like a broken record when I refer back to the pandemic and how it has shaped all of us in the years that have followed, but the effects of it are still playing itself out as things that have occurred to us on more personal levels have taken center stage in most of our lives. In the last couple of years, some of us have unexpectedly lost people we cared about while some of us have suddenly crossed paths with others who we perhaps never would have prior to 2020. The way our lives delicately intersect with one another in between stages of devastating grief and joyful happenstances have made me more keenly aware of how transitory everything is, but maybe more importantly how brief and even untimely most of our relationships with one another really are. Stay Inside’s sophomore album Ferried Away manages to bottle this feeling, and it’s monumental in the way it explores an emotional storage room of quiet yearnings and makes them clamorously bright and vivid like the flickering neon lights from a weathered and beaten down amusement park. 

When the Brooklyn-based emo / post-hardcore quartet released their debut album Viewing in 2020, it had been one month into the world closing down and felt fitting for the occasion as it was an album focused on loss and grief that fused the dark and turbulent atmosphere of screamo acts like Saetia or City of Caterpillar with a powerful triad of rotating vocals that soundtracked my lockdown that year. Two years ago, the band – which comprises Chris Johns, Bryn Nieboer, Vishnu Anantha, and Chris Lawless – began writing their second full-length album as everything started to open back up. When the first jangly and breezy single “A Backyard” was released, I was initially surprised by the departure in sound. Drawing inspiration from the return to normalcy, the band shared, “We started writing Ferried Away in early 2022. Everyone was excited to party and see their loved ones, and that spring and summer was really beautiful. We wanted to play music that felt triumphant and fun. We were listening to a lot of our favorite bands like that: Cymbals Eat Guitars, Dogleg, Clipse, The Microphones.”

The concept behind the new album is based on the idea of Coney Island’s Steeplechase Park that had historically burned down in 1907. The amusement park is used as a sort of bittersweet haunted reserve where memories of people they have loved can continue to exist until either of them are suddenly faced with each other’s inevitable passing. Each song on the album is dedicated to a specific person and touches on the idea of mortality while exploring the uncertainties and sentiments behind estrangement or simply distance from a loved one. “That year, we had been talking about the movie The Big Chill a lot. It’s about a group of boomers who haven’t seen each other since college, but are brought together by the death of one of their friends. At the same time, a lot of our friends were moving out of the city, an experience I think a lot of people were having post-pandemic, and we were wondering how often we really were going to see these loved ones when they weren’t in our city and in our scene anymore. With Ferried Away, we wanted to focus on being grateful for the time you have with people you love, and appreciating them for how they positively affect your life. That’s why the “limbo” is Steeplechase, a theme park. You aren’t sad that the roller coaster ends, you visit when you can, and appreciate it while it’s there,” the band expresses. 

Ferried Away sounds far more grand than the band’s previous releases as the opening track on the album “Bon Zs” begins with a ghostly cacophony of a fairground and the pulleys on a roller coaster track brings listeners to the beginning of the ride. The triumphant blare of trumpets in the introductory track also clashes with the sonorous lines “I want to know what happened but I’m too afraid to ask / I swear nothing about you is fading for me” painting a dizzying portrait of blurred memories that continue to poke and prod with every jarring guitar line before fading out of view. While the band has deliberately played up this album to sound more joyous, they continue to experiment with all the nuances of emotion within each song and capture warm feelings of reverie as well as stormy reproaches – sometimes boiling to the surface within mere seconds. On their approach to writing for the album the band shares, “We spent a lot more time demoing these songs than we had in the past before bringing them into the studio. This really helped us flesh out the themes, tie the songs together, and also make them more musically ambitious. Johns kept adding a lot of vocal sounds that we thought sounded like jazzy trumpets and so when it came time to actually record them, we figured we’d just actually have our friends who play brass instruments play on the record. With more instrumentation, we decided to track with our friend Brian DiMeglio (Superbloom, Wakelee, Common Sage). That process led us to finding Matt Hull, who plays the vast majority of the trumpet and is just a really amazing player and person.”

The fourth song “An Invitation” utilizes trumpet in a way that conveys a more mournful tone than the way the album begins. It’s also the first song on the album where Lawless’ post-hardcore screaming makes a reappearance, emphasizing a certain devastation in losing an old friend while Johns sings incisively “I used to think I wouldn’t have to ask / but now I’ll meet you at a casket / Hope the flowers give us something to say / while we’re reckoning how this one got away / Somewhere, I lost track of someone I won’t get back.The track slowly morphs from a bright and fast paced jaunt into a slow parade of deliberation. As the song spirals out toward the outro, it’s at this exact point where the album tightens its grip on listeners as they strap in for the remaining chapters to follow. 

While each song is dedicated to people they can’t or no longer see much of anymore, the fifth track “A Town to Give Up In” is notably dedicated to drummer Vishnu Anantha and his personal relationship with the city. The band shares, “This song is about Vishnu’s own contemplation and temptation to leave Brooklyn and perhaps find a new home to start a life in. It seemed important on this record to explore the reasons why some people choose to move their life and leave their old ambitions and friends behind and this song is our conception of that.” 

The epitome of the album lies towards the end of the album with “When’s the Last Time?”  It stops and starts the entire first minute before churning into the second verse where it becomes clear that Stay Inside have established themselves as one of the most deft emo bands today capable of pulling emotionally seething punches similar to emo-alt acts such as Balance and Composure or early Citizen, but taking it just a bit further with art rock inspired thundering kicks and high pitched chords that screech and encroach like an emergency siren on alert. It’s not so far-off to say that Ferried Away is today’s The Ugly Organ. “That was one of the first songs we wrote for the record. Lyrically it came about once all the ideas and themes felt solid, and we also consider it one of the most explicit examples of them. It was also a really important development for us incorporating more rap inspired rhythm and vocal delivery. Johns really found a comfortable and confident place with that song,” they express. 

Penguin Random House

Visually, the album artwork depicts death riding along beside jockeys in the midst of a race, but the image produces an eerie feeling that evokes a loss of youth as it resembles retro illustrative chapter book covers. The illustration much like the album itself appears brighter than the band’s previous works, but there’s a deeper connotation of impermanence and how we are all losing time as the reaper draws closer. On the visual artwork the band shares, “Vishnu did all the layout and general art direction for this one as well. The process started with Bryn finding the cover illustration, and that image having a big impact on the theme of the record. Once we realized we wanted it to reference an imagined old theme park guidebook, we realized we needed more illustrations. Vishnu reached out to K-NOR to do a bunch of amazing artwork for every other part of the record.”

As the first independently released album by the band, Ferried Away has allowed them more time and freedom to experiment with their songs as well as how they have released them, but the most challenging aspect of writing the album has been in how it’s tied to people in their personal lives. “Honestly, writing and releasing a record so intensely personal is stressful. Blight and Viewing were intense emotionally, but writing about specific people gave us the sense that each line needed to be imbued with a permanence and significance out of respect for the people they’re about, some of which are alive and with us. So, I’d say, [the most challenging aspect was] not letting people down, and making sure they feel loved and honored by the songs,” the band shares.

Ferried Away is an intimate rendering of memories that the band have deliberated over or tucked away over time, but it’s also an open letter directed towards those they love and have loved. To sum it up the band shares, “In the most basic sense, Ferried Away is about accepting that everyone and everything is fleeting, and taking the time to cherish the moments you spent with them. So we hope that they hear that they’re appreciated and missed and we hope to see them soon.”

Loan Pham | @x_loanp

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