Track by Track: Semaphore – ‘I Need a Reason to Stay’
Posted: by The Editor
Brooklyn’s Semaphore sound both uncompromisingly modern and impressively timeless. While their blend of shoegaze, alt rock, post-hardcore, and occasionally classical pulls from a variety of past acts, the way they meld them together into a cohesive whole feels both in line with the current post-genre zeitgeist and the new wave of shoegaze bands embracing the genre’s darkest, most forceful tendencies. The four-piece–singer and guitarist Siddhu Anandalingam, drummer Emmett Ceglia, guitarist Jay Kohler, and bassist Niko Hasapopoulos–just released their sophomore LP I Need a Reason to Stay, and it’s a record that already feels like a classic. Anandalingam was kind enough to break down the writing of all nine songs on the record.
“No One” is about trying to make it in music and failing. I knew I wanted the album to start as loud as possible–two snare hits up front. This song showcases what each member of the band does best, especially through collaborative efforts where everyone writes their own parts. I had been listening to a lot of Deafheaven and Spotlights, and I wanted to write something in that vein but was imbued with a lot of chromatic harmonic movements more heard in classical or jazz. The guitar tuning is inspired by Robert Fripp. Emmett brought in his keen understanding of blast beats, alternative rock, and Glassjaw-inspired rhythms. Jay understood how to harmonically enrich each chord. Niko permeated the song with his love of Krallice-esque death metal basslines. We live-tracked this one without a metronome, and the push and pull of energy is palpable.
“Smother” is a song about trying to fight against anxiety and uncertainty. Musically, this song was inspired by Foo Fighters and Balance and Composure, but while drawing from some overt shoegaze influences that I never heard them touch upon. While writing, I imagined the bridge and chorus of this track playing in the background of a reboot of Dawson’s Creek or some other ’90s teen drama.
This track started during a jam while practicing for our skramz sister-band Detach the Islands. Emmett and Niko spent a long time figuring out a really groovy rhythm section part for the verses that you might hear on a triphop track rather than something shoegazy. We also wanted to stretch the bounds of what Semaphore could be with this track, especially with juxtaposing loud and soft parts. The calmest section on the whole album shows up on this track followed by our only overt black metal section with Niko on shouted vocals!
“The State Where Everything Falls Apart”
Emmett wrote most of the music for this track, while Jay, Niko, and I arranged the guitars and bass a little. Jay improvised an awesome solo for the bridge and nailed it in two takes. This song actually took us the longest time on the album to piece together. Finally, I decided to take a page out of the Blink-182 Untitled for the vocal parts, and Adam Cichocki, our mixer/ producer, figured out what production tricks could be used to make this sound fit the vibe as well, with background pianos, fake drum machines, and shouted vocals.
“Fading (I Need a Reason to Stay)”
Originally, I wanted to write a quick, snappy song that sounded like Hundredth or Minus the Bear–of course, it did not turn out that way, and this is one of the longest songs on the album, as well as the title track. I love guitar tapping and other extended techniques involving harmonics. I love a slow build-up, especially when it erupts in a wall of sound that while monstrous is not cacophonous. The vocals were inspired by the album Trainwreck by Boys Night Out.
Emmett wrote most of the music for this song, while we all wrote the bridge together and arranged all the parts. While I think the music is very influenced by The Cure, I also was channeling Cave In while writing my vocal lines. Many of the lyrics are taken from In Search of Lost Time by Proust.
This track started with Emmett on drums and Niko on bass coming up with a Glassjaw-esque bass part. This is one of the few tracks where Jay and I really aimed to turn the guitars into sound machines, aided by the use of pedals. A lot of this song was influenced by the band Black Midi from the metric modulations and interpolations and math-rocky guitar grooves to the noise-section breakdown after the first chorus. The lyrics are from translations of The Upanishads, a Hindu text which discusses existence and consciousness. I am not religious, but the text speaks to many philosophical ideas that I believe. This song is the start of a gapless three-song closer to the album.
“Nothing” probably has nothing to do with the band Nothing. The main influence for this track was Deftones, My Bloody Valentine, and Sunny Day Real Estate, though a lot of the harmonic motions on this track I think are quite unique to Semaphore’s sound. I really love the sound of reverb into distortion, and this is a track that shows that tone off. Emmett’s right foot is probably at its limit in the first section of this track, even more than the other black-metal influenced songs on the album. This track is also the same alternative tuning as “What a Way” and thus flows directly into it.
“What a Way”
What a Way is actually a re-recording of an older Semaphore song from our first album All Too Robot. On that album, I played all the instruments and mixed it myself. Re-recording this track is meant to show that this album is the true beginning of Semaphore–Jay, Emmett, and Niko all came up with their only versions of the parts that I had originally played, and I could not be happier with how it sounds. Musically, the track seems to be mainly influenced by Deafheaven, but in reality, there are a lot of melodies and harmonic movements that come directly from “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” by Claude Debussy.
I Need a Reason to Stay is out now.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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