Track by Track: The Cast Before the Break – ‘Where We Are Now’

Posted: by The Editor

Albany post-rockers The Cast Before the Break quietly dropped “Lighthouse” in January 2020, their first song in nearly a decade, and now they’re back with a full LP Where We Are Now. Not only is it a remarkable return for the five-piece – it’s their best record yet. Fans of groups like Valleyheart, Moving Mountains, or Gates will find lots to love here. The full band – vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist TJ Foster, guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Carter, guitarist Jordan Stewart, bassist Lars Ewell, and drummer Ryan Crosby – was kind enough to give The Alternative some insight into the writing of Where We Are Now with an in-depth track-by-track breakdown. Read that below, and be sure to listen along while you do.

“Friends of Mine”

TJ: If there was any song that killed me not being able to release it, it was “Friends of Mine.” This was always going to be the opening track. And then like two weeks before turning it in to our label, Jordan had the bright idea of turning the whole thing on its head and opening the record with it instead. It made no sense to me on paper, but all the sense in the world once we tried it out.

If there’s one song on Where We Are Now that sums up The Cast Before the Break, it’s “Friends of Mine.” It’s dynamic. Ambient. Emotional. Slightly indulgent. It’s everything we’ve ever done in just seven minutes. And it means a lot to me because it’s about a fractured time in the band’s history. In between finishing Still and signing to Deep Elm, we went on a little break. Things became tense and this song was sort of analyzing my role in it all. For the longest time, I blamed others for my state of mind, and I think this was me coming to terms with needing to take some responsibility of my own. The bridge, which my wife sings, was added just a few months ago after this Jimmy Eat World-esque melody came into my head. It sort of feels like the song comes full circle – after all these years, the one who healed me is now the one I’m married to. “Pain is silent, so don’t write this down / Speak to me now…” I’m notoriously bad at articulating my feelings unless it’s in song form. She’s been my guiding light in that respect; it only made sense to have her sing this part.

“Where We Are Now”

TJ: When planning for this record, I wanted to approach it very loosely, very DIY. Although we didn’t record it live, I wanted it to have that type of feeling. We had just come off a very polished, very expensive record that ended up having a lot of baggage attached to it, and I remember just wanting this to be more laidback and fun. It’s ironic that we couldn’t finish it the first go around, I guess. This song – which was called both “Untitled” and “Japanese Autocracy” for a little while – was written in the studio. We packed up my then-mobile recording rig, all our gear, and drove down to a house on Red Cedar Lake in Connecticut that my family owned at the time. It had this big open living room with ceilings that spanned two floors – perfect for drum recording. We always wanted to try something spontaneous, and the title track is what came out of it. The version you hear now is definitely not what would’ve come out of us ten years ago. Jeremy and I in particular struggled with revisiting this one quite a bit, but I love how it came out. This is one of the few songs that I re-recorded all my guitars for due to a nasty hum I couldn’t get rid of in one of the tracks. But the quiet bridge I couldn’t change. That lightly strummed, single guitar just sounds like the epitome of something so small in such a big room. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t recapture that loneliness.

“Ships Passing”

Jordan: This song has my favorite vocal melody from TJ on any of our songs. Over the years it took to finish the album, this is the track I thought about the most, especially that chorus. It always seemed like a song that had the potential to connect with a wider audience than our previous albums. As much as I love some of the more post-rock influences in our music, it is undeniable a lot of us have found inspiration in bands like Death Cab for Cutie; I think we were able to really explore that side of us with this one. 

TJ: I always thought this song had so much potential. It’s probably the most straightforward song we’ve written. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus… that’s not typical for The Cast Before the Break. In so many words, it’s a love song. I can’t specifically remember what I wrote it about then, but singing it ten years later, I know what it means to me now. And since it’s pretty personal, I’m going to leave this one open to interpretation.


TJ: Everything in this song was recorded back in 2012/2013. It was important to me to have at least one song be rooted entirely in its original timeframe. This was the only one we had fully tracked so… it was an easy decision. I remember trying to write something a bit more positive – we weren’t exactly known for being “uplifting,” haha. “Lighthouse” still makes me smile so, I guess I succeeded.

Ryan: What I remember about writing this song was how happy Jordan was when the distorted power chords kicked in. The working song title for this was ‘The Who Who’ for obvious reasons. This song was just an absolute blast to play. Some may say I enjoyed it too much and often got a case of the speed-’em-ups when we played it live.

What this song is to me now is just a huge window that looks back to some of the happiest times of our career where, no matter what was going on, when ‘The Who Who’ kicked in we were the happiest we could be.


TJ: I wanted to write an Odyssean story arranged in three acts. The song is about a draft dodger – a kid who gets called to war but doesn’t believe in the cause and doesn’t want to end up leaving his mother childless. It starts off as a dialogue between the two of them and she inevitably encourages him to flee. So, he sets sail and begins witnessing the war from the outside. In act two, he begins to go insane from being solitary for so long and seeing all the atrocities he was almost a part of. In the end, he heads back to land only to find his mother killed as collateral damage. Oddly enough, it’s one of the more musically upbeat songs on the record! I always liked the thought of trying to meld the post-rock sensibilities we were known for with more traditional, “pop-oriented” structures. I think it worked out really well.

A fun little tidbit. When I first came up with the idea for the song, I nicknamed it “Seaward” as a homophonic reference to Arrested Development. Ten years later, it just seemed wrong to change it. So, here’s a rather serious song with a rather silly, unprofessional title. But it also kind of works in our discography – the first song we ever released was called “Onward, Love.”


TJ: We wrote this song early in the process. Although I had a general idea of the song’s theme, I didn’t have solidified lyrics until 2013. School shootings and gun violence have long been a problem, but what really hit home was the Newtown Elementary shooting in 2012. I grew up in Connecticut, about an hour and a half from that school. My aunt and uncle live basically right down the road. On top of that, at the time I had a daughter who was just about to turn school age. “Minuteman” is a brief commentary on all of that, told from different points of view. It’s a little all over the place, purposely so because it’s an issue that seems to be all over the place in this country when it can really be broken down into something so simple: we’re protecting laws granted to our citizens at a time when the most advanced form of artillery was a musket and our refusal to adapt those laws along with modern technology is costing children lives. When I went back to revisit this song through the lens of 2021, I realized that it didn’t make sense to change any of the words – nothing about the situation has really changed in the last decade so the ideas still seemed pretty relevant.

“Shy Away”

TJ: This is probably the simplest song we’ve ever written – I feel like it’s the most unexpected one on here. Maybe it’s for that reason why it’s also one of my favorites. It’s a song about mental health and recognizing your own struggles in others. It was written not long after meeting my now wife, and I just remember being with her in a group situation for one of the first times and seeing an expression on her face that I recognized as being a stranger in a crowded place. The line “I feel like there’s a sadness stuck in you / I can see it in your eyes across the room” stemmed directly from that. This song’s lyrics didn’t change from their original form – the only thing that changed along the way was the title. I almost had the balls to call it “Let It Be” but… figured that was just setting us up for failure.

Jordan: Space Jam. This is a true story: the idea for the saxophone on the bridge came while I was watching Space Jam with my daughter. Earlier that day, I had seen a video on Instagram of a musician friend of ours, Eric Sosler (The Racer, No Great Pretender, A Carousel Moon) playing sax, and for some reason the idea came to mind while watching Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes take on the fearsome Monstars. We struggled with what to fill the song out with in the end, because the bones of it were very solid – figuring out something a little different for us with the instrumentation ended up making a whole lot of sense. I’m very grateful Eric was willing to record something for us. One of the album highlights for me is that moment the drums and bass come in for the first time – kudos to the rhythm section for a really creative approach to a more subdued track from us.

“From a Pedestal” 

TJ: This song has a lot of little Easter eggs in it. One of our “fan favorites,” if you will, was always “From the Earth, at a Crossroad” from our debut, As Your Shoulders Turn On You. “From A Pedestal” is a sort of response song to that and is one of the only ones where I actually revamped most of the original lyrics. ‘From the Earth’ was part of a saga surrounding a man who was in a coma after being hit by a drunk driver. It’s a somewhat frenetic song about this guy questioning God and religion and all of that. As an atheist myself, there’s a good amount of me in there. But for “From A Pedestal,” I thought it would be fun to tell that story from God’s point of view. He/She is questioning him/herself and starts to believe that maybe the leader/follower roles were meant to be reversed. The bridge, where I’m sort of yelling random shit in different ears is a series of callback lines to a few songs from our catalog that all kind of tie to this “questioning blind faith” mentality. Long story short, there’s a lot of fanfare here. After making people wait so long for these songs, I thought that was kind of important.

“Slice of Life”

Ryan: This song was an idea I had during the writing process and it generated from my, at the time, new embrace of post-rock. The idea was pretty simple: I wanted a song with a jazzy swing beat that kept building and building until it went berserk in a huge wall-of-sound. This song used to be twice as long and I was the only one who loved it, haha. The timing of its genesis probably put it up against itself as I think while I was starting to gravitate towards post-rock, others were pulling back a bit. But, I held fast in my belief in the track and Jeremy promised me that he would work to get it on the record when we started to revisit the album.

Now it has a shorter run time and is way more succinct. Honestly, when I first heard it back, I got emotional because it absolutely fulfilled my vision (with a little less pedal noise, haha) and it came together so beautifully. There are so many subtle genre blends in here, it’s really incredible to me that we were able to pull them all together cohesively. Jazz, emo, blues, post-rock, post-hardcore, indie… it’s all over the place. It’s been great to hear people embrace the track so far. Hey, Ryan from 10 years ago: great success!


Jeremy: I feel like the first half of this record is very different than the second. It progresses naturally, but the first half feels like our newer vibe, whereas the second half starts to dive back into some older, darker stuff. Then “Hindsight” comes and it’s a perfect blend of both. It starts dark but then gets to that bridge when everything switches to the major key, and it just ends on this glorious feeling. I think it’s a perfect summation of everything we had just gone through on the record. And having the song called “Hindsight” – looking back and thinking we were never going to get to this point? It gets me every time.

TJ: It was the first song we wrote for this record, all the way back in 2009/2010 shortly after we finished Still. Thematically, it’s sort of a cousin to “Friends of Mine” – having them bookend the record ended up being perfect. Up until recently, this was one of the worst years/eras of my life. I became someone I’m not proud of and I’m fairly comfortable saying that it had an impact on the band’s first hiatus (before signing with Deep Elm). The funny part is, I wrote “Hindsight” with very little actual hindsight. Twelve years later, the song makes a lot more sense. Like most of these songs, it benefitted from all that time and wisdom. While a lot of the words may not have changed much, the feelings and the meanings evolved as we’ve exited our twenties. Back then, it was really difficult for me to reflect on that period clearly and painlessly. Now, I feel like we’re all on steadier ground, with a better perspective on the trajectory of our lives. We started this record in the right place at the wrong time. Ten years later, we finished it and it turned out better than we could have imagined – definitely better than it would have had we finished it back then. There is closure in these songs, most notably in this one. “Hindsight” now sounds triumphant – it didn’t necessarily back then – a cap on a crazy endeavor that almost never happened. But it did. It took a while, but we saw it through. And if it’s the last thing we do, I’m happy feeling like we went out at the top of our game.


Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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