Interview: The Austerity Program Discuss ‘Bible Songs 1’

Posted: by The Editor

The Austerity Program are a two piece band from New York City that create fierce genre-weaving sounds. Justin Foley (guitar, vocals) and Thad Calabrese (bass) have been blending noise rock, metal and punk with a drum machine since 1997. Their latest release Bible Songs 1 is out now on their own label Controlled Burn Records. The intensity parallels the dismay and repugnance found in the scriptures of the Old Testament. We were able to plunge into Justin’s mind about the process of creating an album based on the Bible (Episode I, mind you) as well as the band’s history.

It famously took Karl Childers, Billy Bob Thorton’s character in the film Slingblade four years to read the Bible. Justin, how long did it take you to read the bible?

I never saw Slingblade. I picked away at reading the Bible for about three years.

Karl said “I reckon I understand a great deal of it. Wasn’t what I expected in some places.” What was the catalyst behind wanting to read the Bible? How familiar were you with the themes in it? What were some things that were surprising to you about it?

I have had a Bible sitting on my shelf since my teens (I went to a Catholic high school.) A few years back I noticed it and realized that I had strong opinions about the book but was unfamiliar with most of it. So I figured I’d read the whole thing and see if it changed my perspective. For the most part, reading the book didn’t change my outlook. Two things were unexpected—it was very tedious and repetitive in large parts, and there is a lot more complaining than I expected, especially in the Old Testament.

What is your experience with religion? Was it a part of your upbringing?

I grew up in a Catholic family but we were not particularly religious. Through that experience and others I’ve got some understanding of the major world religions, and so I had a general familiarity with many of the book’s main stories. But my interest in the Bible isn’t religious; I don’t believe in god and I am not a member of any religion. Instead, I wanted to better understand the most influential text in my world and try to get a sense of how it has impacted stuff around me.

What is the depiction on the album art?

That’s Gustave Dore’s illustration of a scene from 2 Kings “Slaughter of the Sons of Zedekiah Before Their Father”.

This is definitely the most hard hitting release of your discography. Was this a conscious effort or did the historically dark subject of the Old Testament bring it out?

We were interested in making something that was more abrasive and visceral than what we’d done in the past. We were writing this music around the time I was working through the book up and I saw that many of the Bible’s themes fit well with the intended emotional experience we were going for in the songs we’d been writing. It wasn’t just the dark subject matter of these passages—it’s the reaction to the book’s messages that fits well with the violence in the music. For example: I’m honestly horrorstruck by the endorsement of genocide of the Midians in Numbers 31. I’m not trying to recreate the experience of killing thousands of innocent people, most significantly because I’ve thankfully never been in any situation even remotely like that. I have no insight into it. But I can read clearly that Moses tells the Israelites that this is God’s plan and think to myself “fuck that, that is sick and wrong, what the hell is wrong with these people? What lesson is this story intending to teach me?”

What was the recording process for this release like? What made it different than previous releases?

We have a specific approach to recording that we continue to refine. The drums are tracked first, and then Thad and I both play along live to the re-amped drum machine. I’ll then overdub vocals. We have really narrowed down what works for us and it’s very efficient. The instruments were tracked over two afternoons and the vocals took another three nights or so. Mixdown was another couple of evenings. Then it’s off to the mastering house.

How did The Austerity Program come to be? How did you and Thad meet, and when did the drum machine start doing most of the work?

Thad and I met early in our time of attending the same college. We realized pretty quickly we had similar interests and compatible personalities. It’s rare and great that we’ve been able to continue that friendship over a long period of our lives and still find it to be a productive place to create music together. The drum machine has always been at the center of the band. It’s more capable and sounds more interesting than either Thad or I.

Justin, you and I were actually at the same place last year. The Caleb Scofield tribute show in Boston. It is one of my favorite shows that I have attended, a powerfully moving night full of fans, family, and peers. My heart goes out to all the bands, especially Cave In. I’m certain they have had an influence on you as they have had on many. Has The Austerity Program toured with Cave In or any of their family of bands?

We have played shows with several of the Cave In affiliated projects, including a show with Old Man Gloom, another with Zozobra and at least one Steve Brodsky band. Cave In was one of the key bands in the first wave of Hydra Head and we were always happy to be included in their orbit. I met Caleb a few times but knew him more as a friend of some good friends. I’m really sorry that he died and left behind so many people who love him and miss him.

What are some of your favorite tours/shows you have been included on?

We’ve been fortunate to play with a lot of very good bands in our time. One memorable experience – a few years back Helms Alee were opening for Big Business and Torche at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. We’d arranged to do a secret after show with them in the basement of a dingy pizza bar about 6 blocks away. We were nervous about the Music Hall getting mad at a second show and not paying them, so we didn’t announce it was them before they played the big show. It was a Wednesday night in NYC and the whole thing took on this weird aura of off-kilter nonsense. Thad and I started the night off setting up in the basement of bar and then going to see the Helms Alee show. As soon as their set was done, we passed out flyers to everyone there announcing the after-show: these dingy handbills that had a hand drawn map of how to get to the bar. At some point while I was at the Music Hall someone texted me a picture of them back at the bar holding my very rare guitar that was sitting out in the basement – I’d just left it set up. Not
very smart. Finally the main show ended and we tried to street-team everyone over to the second show. I raced back over to try to keep whomever was already at the bar in the room, only to find that my speaker cabinet had kinda broken during load in. Ben from Helms Alee rolled up and instantly announced that he was drunk, but he still helped me repair the amp (as he’s an amp builder). The whole time the room is 1/2 full with a dozen or so friends/fans of us and another group of Helms Alee fans too into it or too wasted to head home. We started playing at about 1:30, they followed us at about 2:15 and the show ended around 3; we didn’t finish the load out until at least 3:30. But somewhere in the middle of that a decent crowd materialized and it was a pretty fun show. I had to get up for a very unproductive work day the following morning at 7 but kept thinking “Shit! I can’t believe we pulled it off.” It felt very old-school NYC.

Could the Bible be the influence for another release, like Bible Songs 2, with subject matter covered in the New Testament?

There’s going to be a Bible Songs 2, and it will have at least one New Testament passage as the basis for a song.


For more on The Austerity Program head over to their site

Tyler Holland | @InTyler_WeTrust

The Alternative is ad-free and 100% supported by our readers. If you’d like to help us produce more content and promote more great new music, please consider donating to our Patreon page, which also allows you to receive sweet perks like free albums and The Alternative merch.