It Holds Up + Interview: Touché Amoré – Is Survived By

Posted: by The Editor

It’s difficult to notice the years that have passed until they’re marked by anniversaries that celebrate certain milestones. The older I get the more I seem to question how it is that each year has come and gone, as if suddenly it’s moving too quickly for me. I felt this particularly during the last three years of my 20s over the pandemic and often found myself feeling an urgent call to do something before it was “too late.” As if I would suddenly age out of all of my interests and opportunities at the turn of 30. However irrational it may sound, the pressure to have been someone or made something or have my life together by then is something I did not realize was complete bullshit until suddenly I was there. This year I’ve revisited several albums that have celebrated their ten year anniversaries and helped me navigate my life ten years ago. In doing so I mostly came to the conclusion that my 20s were far more dramatic than the televised teenage dramas could have ever prepared me for. I also realized how crucial those particular albums have been, but the one that perhaps remains the most resonant to me today is Touché Amoré’s Is Survived By and I spoke with vocalist Jeremy Bolm about it.  

As the third studio album in the post-hardcore band’s discography, Is Survived By reflected upon these questions surrounding what it means to have a legacy and the existential anxiety that comes with trying to define that as frontman Jeremy Bolm himself was entering his 30s when writing the album. Produced by Brad Wood, the album was the band’s most ambitious release at the time, incorporating more drawn out, slower melodies and traditional song structures that weren’t as present in their earlier material. Is Survived By gave off the impression that this could have been their “swan song” as any band’s collective mortality is uncertain when pursuing music, particularly within the youth-oriented punk/hardcore realm. “There may have been some subconscious stresses leading me to feel that way about the band’s mortality. We were dealing with a lot of infighting between management, booking agency, and label and I was personally having to be the glue to try and mend that shit and I can’t say I enjoyed any of it. Thankfully everybody learned to get along over time,” Bolm shares. “As for the youth oriented culture surrounding punk, it’s easy to feel bogged down by getting older in this world, but there’s enough hardcore heroes out there to point to as inspiration and to remind yourself that that stuff doesn’t really matter,” he assures me. 

The album was praised upon its release as it saw the band mature in their artistic endeavors while retaining their core punk energy and blunt honesty. Reflecting on the most surprising aspect of the album when he hears it now Bolm shares, “What surprises me most when listening to the remixes of the album is the wild swings we were taking without realizing it at the time. We put focus on trying to write songs that had a verse / chorus / verse structure and in doing so wrote some of our oddest songs. ‘Social Caterpillar’ stands out to me as us trying really hard to make that work and what we were left with was this bizarre song that only makes sense on this album.” A song that addresses shedding past worries and feeling more comfortable with yourself through a period of personal evolution, it was certainly uncommon to see a more traditional structure within a Touché Amoré song. At the time it was a new level of songwriting for the band that expanded their sound and I think ultimately opened the door for more of these longer songs to exist especially on Stage Four three years later. While songs like “Social Caterpillar” may not have made sense outside of the album, it did serve as a part of the story that unfolded within the album as Bolm contemplated how to continue to write honestly while reflecting on various other fears about who he might still be or how his chosen path has cultivated other aspects of his life in love and relationships with others. It also reminds me of the reason why I enjoy Touché Amoré’s music so much is for that exact experience of listening to the context of a song within a whole album as opposed to mere hit singles. If there is anything that their music has made me do as a listener, it’s taking the time to listen to every word that is being said and every emotion being expressed because I feel in some way it holds importance in the very effort of it.

From my perspective, Is Survived By is one of their most determined and urgent albums, but it also happened to be one of the most stressful albums for Bolm to write. Perhaps the only time where he had approached the studio without full lyrics written, he shares in hindsight what writing the album ultimately taught him: “It taught me that not only do I need to have all my lyrics done, but I need to demo the entire album before going in to cement the thing. I wish I was someone who could write comfortably on the spot, but I learned the hard way with ISB to be as prepared as possible.”

One of the most insightful aspects of the album, lyrically, is hearing Bolm examine his path as a musician and how it can feel like a double edged sword in wanting the praise and recognition in “Praise/Love,” but also suffering the misconstrued ideas that people often make of someone they don’t actually know, no matter how vulnerable the artist may be in their art. This relationship between himself and how others perceive him remains challenging to maneuver as Bolm expresses, “I think some days it’s better and some days it’s worse. I’d like to think I have thicker skin now, but the parasocial relationships that strangers tend to create make me feel very uneasy. I have a very deep love and appreciation for anyone who’s felt any connection to the band, but when people create a narrative about who you are it can be tough to navigate. I try to remember that great quote ‘How You Are Perceived Is None of Your Business.’

As “Praise/Love” transitions into the next song “Anyone/Anything,” it’s a portion of the album that has always been of particular interest to me as I had perceived it to be about the audience that a band like Touché Amoré comes from, namely the punk/hardcore scene. While it is certainly a place that breeds progressive ideas and at its core is about community and inclusion, there are times where anyone’s authenticity or sincerity can suddenly be invalidated by somebody else on social media today. On how the song really came to be and what he’s most proud of about it, Bolm shares, “I wrote that song about the gatekeeper mentality I felt I was facing in 2012. I’d come home from tour and go to local shows and be met with comments from people I’d known for years like, ‘wow, I’m surprised you’re here’ – as if I’d outgrown or was too ‘big time’ for supporting the scene. I didn’t feel very welcome for a while and it was bumming me out because it’s not like we were Coldplay all of a sudden. The bridge in the song I’m still pretty proud of, which is taking notice of the people who want to make others feel excluded that are often tourists in this scene and don’t stick around long. Reminds me of an Over My Dead Body lyric: ‘those who scream the loudest are the first to fucking go.’

As the album celebrates its ten-year anniversary, the band will also be releasing a remixed / remastered version, complete with a special anniversary edition vinyl. “We’re doing these member specific variants where each record has a mini essay or blurb about their reflections on the record and each variant has a color way matching the layout of the album. I can’t wait for people to see it. I’m mostly excited about how it sounds though. I struggled with the way that album turned out sounding and now it sounds incredible. Brad Wood and Emily Lazar did an amazing job remixing and remastering the album,” Bolm shares. As a fellow record collector, Bolm also shares what some of his personal favorite reissues have been: “My favorite reissues are the ones that give you a glimpse into what an album could have sounded like, for instance the In Utero Steve Albini mixes that came out in 2013 or The Replacements’ Dead Man’s Pop which features an alternate version of the Don’t Tell a Soul album.

Sometimes I forget that in the previous year before 2013, it was predicted that the world would come to an end. When I look back at the albums that came out that year, I do wonder if the outpouring of art was not unlike the same sort of urgency in music that we have seen in the last year coming out of the pandemic. In 2013, we saw the release of landmark albums from Citizen, Deafheaven, Superheaven, Balance and Composure, and Touché Amoré themselves, and they were all albums that pushed the boundaries of their music in a way that was defining for the decade of music that followed. When Bolm looks back on that time, he notes, I look back fondly on both 2011 and 2013 as years us and our peers were forging our own paths, but leading to the same destination, being the audience that was there for it. It all feels very coming of age for both the audience and the bands in the best way possible.” 

Having released two more full length albums following Is Survived By, Touché Amoré are still evolving and creating honest music that reflects how they’ve continued to grow as people. As one of the most reputable bands in the scene, their ability to continue making inspired music is particularly admirable and the legacy that they have certainly built for themselves is only expanding as Bolm tells me, “I try not to take a single thing for granted with this band because it’s gone light years further than any of us could have imagined, so I try my best to cherish everything the best I can.” If there was a word of advice Bolm could have given himself during that period of time he shares, “I’d let myself know that turning 30 isn’t a very big deal and to take it easy.

Is Survived By feels more relevant to me now than it did ten years ago. By the time I reach my favorite track, “Non Fiction,” I am flooded with memories of every decision I have made for myself in attempting to carve out my own path. It has not been without a lot of self doubt and though the question of how each of us are likely to be remembered can only really be answered by the ones who know us best in the end, I’d like to think that sharing the music I loved and cherished in my lifetime would play a part in my personal legacy.

Ten years ago, Jeremy Bolm sang in the opening track “Just Exist” that when asked how he would like to be remembered, he said he’d “rather stay forever.” Today, when asked how he hopes to be remembered now, his response remains candid: “It’s none of my business.

Pre-order the remixed and remastered version of Is Survived By through Deathwish now

Loan Pham | @x_loanp

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