Story by Maddy Howell
Especially over the last few years, the world has been through a lot.
From a global pandemic to war, political corruption, and financial crises, there has been no shortage of adversity recently. A shared pain that has transcended borders and impacted a vast majority of the planet’s population in unique but equally devastating ways, whilst so much was cruelly taken away, the world was given the opportunity to unite.
Plunging countless individuals into a period of introspection as TV screens projected a rolling news cycle of terror and uncertainty, there were constant reminders of the threads that connect humanity on a fundamental level, but amidst fear, selfishness, and greed – for some, division only grew.
With empathy seemingly on the decline, Incendiary frontman Brendan Garrone made an observation. Witnessing the chaos in his home state as COVID raged through, and its impact not only on people’s physical health, but on their ability to connect, understand, and communicate with others, he began considering the idea of pain avoidance. Exploring the lengths that people will go to in order to maintain comfort, and the hyper-polarization of American society throughout the last few years, ‘Change The Way You Think About Pain’ was born.
The band’s fourth album, its creation started shortly after the world was plunged into the darkness and isolation of global lockdowns and government enforced restrictions. The most refined and focused Incendiary album to date, ‘Change The Way You Think About Pain’ captures the visceral aggression, pain, and frustration of an unrelenting period of time. To celebrate its release, KNOTFEST sat down with Brendan to reflect on the band’s rise to the top of the New York hardcore scene, their vision for album four, and what the future holds 16 years on from their inception.
In 2017, Incendiary put out their third album, ‘Thousand Mile Stare’, and by 2018 you were playing some of the biggest shows of your journey so far, including a monumental show at London’s Underworld. That album felt like a huge step forward in everything the band was doing, so how was that from your perspective?
Brendan Garrone – We were always a band who were just finding our way and playing as much as possible, but then we did ‘Cost of Living’. Incendiary pre- and post- that album are two different bands, and I don't think we were expecting to have that kind of a reaction to that record.
I mention this because going into ‘Thousand Mile Stare’ was a little bit different. With ‘Cost of Living’, there were zero expectations, but when it was time to do ‘Thousand Mile Stare’ we were recording with Will Putney, which was a little bit bigger for us. For the first time, we felt a little pressure. We had a lot of goals going into this record, and the biggest one was that we wanted to write structured songs with clear choruses and develop our songwriting.
That idea of pressure is interesting when you consider the logistics of this band, because Incendiary wasn't formed with the intention of being a full-time touring band…
Brendan Garrone – We were a band for six years before ‘Cost of Living’, so our progress as a band was a bit of a slow burn before then. The progression happened on the later side for us, and that’s just the way that the cookie crumbled. We were really focused on playing as much as possible, but the times when we were ready to hit the road never really matched with people’s interest in the band, to be honest. It's not like when we were younger we were getting all these offers and turning them down!
We aren't the band that are going to play 215 shows a year, but during our earlier years we did play a lot. Because we were strategic and played shows in a different way, we were an omnipresent touring band. We were constantly doing things rather than doing a long run and then stopping for five months. It evened out a little bit, and I think everyone in the band was pretty aligned with our priorities and how we wanted to approach things with playing shows.
Operating in the way that you do as a band, that must have made your experience of the pandemic as musicians quite unique…
Brendan Garrone – “We had quite a lot of things planned for 2020 and 2021, so it was a bummer, but I think it was a necessary kick in the butt. We needed something to help us get serious about writing. Part of the reason that we took so much time between ‘Thousand Mile Stare’ and this new album is because our band is designed to play live shows. That's what we do, and every time we were presented with a fork in the road between declining shows and starting writing or taking the offer and playing the shows… we just like playing too much. We kept doing it, and so the only good thing about the pandemic was that it became the catalyst that we needed to get serious about writing.
As someone within the hardcore scene who has found so much community and friendship there over the years, what were those two years like in terms of the isolation? Without being able to go to shows, see friends, and collaborate in person, was that a challenging time for you?
Brendan Garrone – Being in New York City during the early days of the pandemic was pretty wild. It was hit super hard, it was super bleak, and nobody had any idea what was going on. It was really weird and scary, and whilst the pandemic obviously affected every person in the world, being in New York throughout the spring of 2020 was not fun. There was a fatalist attitude, and it really made you take stock of what everybody had and what was actually important. For me personally, there was a really big focus on trying to maintain my physical and mental health, which was not a focus of mine early on in the pandemic. I realised that I needed to get strict about my health and my family's health, so I eventually found my footing.
From a musical perspective, some of the creativity that came out of the pandemic – especially in the height of isolation – was amazing. A good friend of ours is Vinnie Caruana who plays in I Am the Avalanche and The Movielife, and he did a lot of virtual acoustic shows. We all lived in the same neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and all of my friends would join the shows whilst we were three blocks away from each other. We’d watch it and talk to each other, and that’s what got us through the pandemic.
In terms of creativity then, when did the idea of a new Incendiary record really start coming to the forefront of conversation?
Brendan Garrone – It was pretty early on in the pandemic, and I have to give a lot of credit to Brian
It's interesting to think about this being Incendiary’s fourth album, because so many of hardcore’s most iconic bands only ever released one or two records. What did the vision for a hardcore band’s fourth album actually look like for you? Because there isn’t much of a blueprint to follow…
Brendan Garrone - We were extremely cognizant of that. We knew that we were on a fourth album, which is a little bit unprecedented for a hardcore band. Generally speaking, hardcore prioritises the new, and I love that about it, but it places us in an interesting position. We’re blessed to continue as a part of this scene this long into our career, and we wanted to make sure that we were doing justice to what Incendiary is, but also to the wider hardcore scene.
We didn't really want to take any left- or right-hand turns, we just thought we could get better. We wanted to refine our sound, but we didn't want to throw in any curveballs. I think that’s what a large majority of people thought we were going to do, but instead early on we realised that we wanted to go more heavy and more aggressive. It was naturally feeling darker from both a sonic perspective and a lyrical perspective. We became focused on being reflective of where we're at, paying homage to our past and what Incendiary is, but we felt like we still had a lot of room for improvement. It was important for us to refine our sound rather than really change it.
‘Change The Way You Think About Pain’ does have a pertinent aggression to it which feels even more pertinent considering everything the world has been through over the last few years. Where did that spawn from, do you think?
Brendan Garrone - The first time I listened through the completed album, I was talking to Brian about how dark, aggressive, and abrasive these songs are. I think he made a conscious decision musically about that, but lyrically I was kind of surprised with what came out. It wasn't necessarily premeditated, but when I put pen to paper I usually start with a concept or something that has been on my mind recently. It’s often something that I'm writing to myself as a self-help kind of thing, but that’s just what I manifested. It’s interesting, but we knew we wanted it to be aggressive. We knew we wanted to write hardcore songs, and we know what our band is about. We wanted to stay true to that, and aggression is a part of Incendiary. It’s also a part of me, for whatever reason.
With that vision in mind at the start of the process, what role did Will Putney play in guiding you through the creation of album four?
Brendan Garrone - Will gets our band and what we're going for, which really matters. There's a level of comfort there because we respect him, and he respects us and what we're going for. Even though there’s this level of comfort, Will is very good at pushing us out of our comfort zone a little bit because we trust them. We know that there's this baseline level of understanding, so we're more willing to be follow his direction and try things in new ways.
One of the things that we did a little bit differently this time was spend a lot more time on pre-production. Will would be like, ‘Oh, you guys think the songs are done? No, they're not’. That extra layer of refinement really helped. He also knows what I'm going for on the vocal side too, and he knows how to work with me to get the most out of me. We had a good back and forth process, and I really trusted him to sanity check me and make sure that we felt like I was putting my best foot forward.
Alongside the aggression of the record which we’ve spoken about, something else that's come to a head over the last few years is a severe polarization of society. How did the idea of division colour this record?
Brendan Garrone – A huge part of the album was seeing the effect of the pandemic on people and as a catalyst for hyper partisanship and polarization. A song like ‘Collision’ is directly about that hyper partisanship, and it's a little bit of a play on the concept of where things go when nothing is trusted, and no institutions have value. A lot of the album is about that and the infighting that we've seen in every country, but particularly in the United States. I think the linear growth of that partisanship and separation coming out of COVID was apparent to everybody, and a song like ‘Lie of Liberty’ is about the extreme levels of selfishness that are masqueraded as personal freedoms and liberty. They’re played to as some kind of political right, but it’s a bastardization of the term. It’s an excuse to be a bad person.
As someone who has grown up in American where that idea of liberty is such an integral aspect of your belonging, how did that make you feel?
Brendan Garrone – ‘Lie of Liberty’ in particular is rooted in sheer anger. I saw the facade of a certain group of people using a very precious concept to most Americans to excuse their behaviour. I clearly support liberty and personal freedom, and it’s a huge part of the fabric of American life. Using that as an excuse to push back against the support of certain marginal communities and the idea of social welfare is just using that as an excuse to be selfish.
I think a good example of this shift is the news coverage around the rise of problems on flights. There’s been a huge increase in people getting thrown off of their flights, due to them flipping out for whatever reason. Whilst that may not seem like the biggest deal, it’s a microcosm of this idea where everyone has started to live in their own bubble. People seem to be losing grasp of the concept of respecting somebody else just because you should respect someone else and respecting their freedoms and their right to happiness regardless of if it's different from your own. That fundamental mutual understanding within society seems to be eroding. It's so apparent in post-COVID life just how self-centred and self-absorbed so many people are.
This new record feels like an important statement on the idea of empathy, or more so the lack of it and the frustrations that come with that…
Brendan Garrone – It is exactly that, and it also has a lot to do with the idea of humans avoiding situations and avoiding self-confrontation and self-accountability because it's too difficult and too painful. You see people struggling in modern life who are often looking to assign that blame to another political faction, when in reality there are certain things internally that one is running away from. This is not a new concept, but a lot of the album is about seeing people not dealing with pain. Instead of dealing with it, they let this behaviour manifest in other ways, through self-medication, through drugs and alcohol, through partisanship and political infighting. To me, all these things are ultimately connected to this narrative where everyone is living in isolation in their own head and is not aware of that.
The term ‘pain avoidance’ became a phrase that you and Brian especially kept going back to whilst working on this record, right?
Brendan Garrone – Yeah, I think we saw that manifest as a theme. A lot of the lyrics have some personal focus, and a lot of them have an external focus, but at the root of a lot of this is that people are not able to deal with the challenges and hardships in their personal lives. Because of that, they act out in different ways, and take it out in a different place through potentially self-destructive behaviour. It's certainly not a concept album, but for whatever reason, I kept coming back to that general overarching theme throughout the process of writing these lyrics.
Was it a cathartic experience to be able to capture that feeling within the songs on ‘Change The Way You Think About Pain’ after they’d been buzzing around inside your head during the pandemic?
Brendan Garrone – Yeah, absolutely. ‘Bite the Hook’ for example is a very personal song, and we recently played it live for the first time in Atlanta. It was a big moment for me because going from writing lyrics in your room by yourself to performing them is a vulnerable experience. A lot of the lyrics do have quite a bit of meaning to me, so it’s an interesting experience to perform them and see what comes out. It’s still very unique to me.
With how personal some of these messages are, how do you hope this record resonates with others?
Brendan Garrone – Everyone knows about the commoditization of music and the snackable type of music consumption that we all have, but we wanted to make an album. I forget who it was, but when we were in the writing process someone said to me, ‘Incendiary are an album band’. At the time, we were thinking about doing an EP, and panicking because bands were putting out singles, but it was like, ‘No, we don't care if this is not the best business decision - we’re going to put out an album’.
I would love for people to actually take the time to listen to the album from start to finish, rather than a song on a playlist. We spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about the flow of the album, and it's important to us. I would look at it as a complete thing, and we still enjoy the process of having a complete album rather than snackable singles.
Like we mentioned before, being in a hardcore band with four albums to its name is no mean feat. When you look at where Incendiary is right now as a result of ‘Change The Way You Think About Pain’, what do you think the future holds?
Brendan Garrone – The way that I would describe things lately between the four of us is invigorated. This album has catalysed us as a band and reignited a lot of things in us. Although I've always been thankful for what we've done, there's this amplified gratitude that we all have now. We're so proud to be putting out this album, especially as a band later in our career, and in conjunction with a label that we've been working with for 10 years.
We’ve not played that much over the past eight months or so because we've been waiting for the album to come out, but now we have some special shows planned. We’re seeing this whole new generation of young people get into hardcore, and it's exciting to me as someone who's been involved in hardcore for an embarrassingly long amount of time. It keeps things fresh and new. For me, seeing the younger bands and how amazing the current crop of hardcore bands are makes me excited to play in my band. It’s this circular inertia that moves things forward, and we're happy to be a part of it. Our goal is to be a part of our community and continue to push the ball forward in whatever way we can.
Change The Way You Think About Pain will be released on May 26th via Closed Casket Activities. Pre-orders are available HERE.