The Holy Mess: Philly’s New Heroes

Shortly after filing this story I plan on heading over to Philly’s Art Museum with a hammer and chisel, intent on taking down the Rocky statue to make room for one spotlighting the real heroes of Philadelphia: The Holy Mess. That’s the least these boys deserve for Cande Ru Las Degas, their first proper full-length for the indie label Red Scare Industries.

I won’t bore you with clichés about “maturity” and all those other rock writer go-to words, but it is quite simply a collection of the best songs to date from a band that already has quite a rep for writing some damn good songs.

Drummer Keith Yosco, aka the band mom according to Red Scare founder Toby Jeg, spoke recently about the new songs, beaches in Chicago (yup, they’re real) and why he’ll never leave Philly.

Innocent Words: Are you guys all still in Philly?

Keith Yosco: Yeah! All of us except for Scott live within the beautiful, vibrant, city of brotherly love known as Philadelphia for the better part of four years. In 2010, after Scott decided to move out of his car, he settled into the lovely beach town of Asbury Park. I’ll tell ya man, between Philly and Asbury there’s so many close friends and great venues as well as some amazing coffee shops (thou shall not partake in decaf) that we pop into before hitting our respective day jobs.

Everything in the Northeast is so close in proximity. That’s why we stayed around here. Pennsylvania is home, always will be. Bustin’ outta the city to bail to the beach is no sweat. The Northeast is great for that. Speaking of beaches, Toby Jeg [founder of Red Scare] brought me to one in Chicago this past year. I had no idea Chicago had a beach…with sand. I mean, I know it’s got that great lake and all, but shit! My mind was blown. Maybe I’m an idiot. Yeah I’m an idiot.

IW: So I talked to you guys more than a year ago (last March, I think), and you were close to finishing writing the songs for the full-length. Why did you decide to put the EP out first?

Yosco: Well, what happened was this: right when we teamed up with the flying monkeys over at Red Scare Industries (you know them as Toby Jeg and Brendan Kelly), we had a bunch of songs written. Red Scare had all of our previous releases and dug the stink comin’ off ’em. Since we were putting out our own records at the time, we didn’t have any distro, just what we sold at shows. Red Scare stepped into the fold and re-released all of the EPs and 7-inches onto one slab with some new songs to get the band some exposure.

Sometime this past fall we got into the basement at my house where we wrote Benefit Sesh and started kickin’ out some new songs. We kept some from the batch that you speak of as well. After weeding out the shit that didn’t blow our skirts up, we had Cande Ru Las Degas.HolyMess-350

March of 2012 saw us enter Atlas Studios with the illustrious Matt Allison and his co-hound Justin Yates. Do we even need to discuss the records that came out of that place? Our band wouldn’t be what it is today without some of those records: the church of Chicago. We recorded the thing over 10 days and had a Busch Lite-fueled blast. We put out the Cold Goodbyes EP this past June to showcase two new songs. We also included the controversial cover of the Menzengers “Male Call.” Those guys have been our friends forever now it seems like. We did our first tour we dubbed “Chillin’ The Most” together back in 2007. Every time I’d listen to that song I wondered what it would sound like if the Mess had played it. We had some time in the studio and banged it out in one take; like never practiced it, one take. A tip of the hat to our brothers.

IW: Does it feel like you’ve been working on this debut full-length for a while?

Yosco: Maybe people think we took too long. I don’t know. I’d like to think about it as there isn’t a time frame on how and when to write a record. Save that shit for the bands that sign 10-year, five-record deals. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Being under that sort of pressure is for the birds and in my humble opinion doesn’t really lend itself to quality output. When the idea of this record was being entertained, we wanted to make sure we were good and ready for it. We didn’t want to compromise the art of making a record, ultimately resulting in a rushed product, based on someone else’s expectancy clock.

IW: How did this process: writing, recording, paring down, etc., compare to doing the EPs and 7-inches?

Yosco: As far as writing goes, things this time weren’t much different than the way we approached all of our previous work. We all write parts both on our own and together as a band when bringing them to the table. From there we hash shit out and get a general feel for what we think is made for our band and what isn’t. We know right away. Steveo and I have been playing on and off since 1999, so we think a lot alike as far as tenacity and approach of how we want things to sound. Scott is our mediator and supplies a lot of the overall feeling that the songs build themselves to be. He adds his, what we like to call “chicken picking” on things as well as having a vast knowledge and variety of melody to his leads that we just love.

We used to record everything live. We’d blaze a track in the studio, throw another guitar over top of it, sing, and that was it. Everything prior to Cande was recorded in a weekend. Zero time spent on that shit. I love recording that way… to a point. You really capture that moment as it is and how it was meant to be, which is amazing; however, this time around we wanted to spend time on certain aspects while paying attention to detail. Let’s really make a record that we could be proud of, ya know? I think we achieved that.

IW: What was it like to work with Matt?

Yosco: The Mighty Metallison? Absolutely incredible! This time around we were afforded the luxury of hitting Atlas and giving that a whirl. Working with Matt and Justin was just monumental. They are both just so laid back and have a great knack for just kicking it while working that bodes very well with our band. We don’t take things all that serious. We know what we need to accomplish, but we want to have fun doing it; Atlas is perfect for that. We still took somewhat of the same approach, except we would break parts up and get good performances on things instead of just going for it. It was a very rewarding experience, to say the least. We left with a record that sonically is light years ahead of any of our previous efforts.

IW: The song “My Boring 90’s” blew me away. It sounded unlike anything you guys have done before. Are you guys, um, maturing?

Yosco: “My Boring 90’s” is a song that Steveo wrote that he would perform with one of his numerous acoustic ramblings. The first time I heard that song I fell in love with it and knew we had to use it for something. I didn’t want to fuck with his approach at all because it is so beautifully sad and forbidden. It sounds haunted. So he recorded it during the Atlas session and when it came time to sequence the record we knew, as a band, that we wanted that song to be the first song on the record. First fucking song, BAM. It sets the tone for what’s to come and doesn’t let up for 30 minutes. That’s the idea. That’s what excites us. We wanted to draw the listener into the record and take a ride with us. We want them to feel the shit we’ve been going through since you heard from us last. It’s been fun and it’s been fucked up, believe me.

Is this us maturing? Who knows? From our point of view, which is fairly hazy from time to time, we don’t think it’s our duty to develop a grown-up sound and become boring as our band emits releases. That’s usually what bands who want to “mature” shit out: a boring record. We’d rather share a feeling and shape the songs around those feelings. The listener is owed the “here and now,” and to express those feelings in a very brash and bold manner takes balls.

IW: I liked your earlier stuff, but am really digging this album. Are you guys sick of these songs at this point or really happy with how they turned out?

Yosco: It’s funny. When you’re done writing a bunch of new songs and begin playing them out you have to be prepared to, we’ll say, get used to them. They’re going to be around for a while. We are very proud of the songwriting on CANDE as well as how it turned out, and all we want to do is play these songs. The more you play the better they become within the band. It’s fun as hell to see where some of them wind up. We’ll record something, and three months down the line it’ll morph into an aggressive, perfectly sloppy notch to our belt that we didn’t see coming during the writing process.

As far as the older shit goes, some of it is a bit stale. It’s only natural. We wrote Dismount in 2008 and have been performing songs off of it ever since. Sure, I may go postal when I see “Easy on the Pepsi Fuller” wind up on the set list, but it’s a great song, and people expect it. As of right now we are in a great place musically. We have new songs that we can pair with some select shit of old and blow the door off of your crawl space. Considering our older material, “Goodbye 3713” is great and my favorite song to play, although “Within the Range of a Raven” is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite song we’ve ever written. Period.

IW: What’s next for the band?

Yosco: Ah, you know, the usual. We’ll play shows to support the record, try to get our asses to as many places as we can. We’re really into the idea of going to the West Coast to play. The idea of hitting Europe has been getting thrown around, for sure. We’d love to be able to make that work out. In short, we would like to do as much as possible with this band while not losing our sanity/apartments/lives/relationships. We’ve all been there and don’t really feel like going back on the “ramen diet” version of life.