I had the great opportunity of interviewing Ethan (guitar) and Kevin (vocals, guitar), two members of the New Jersey-based band Gates. Check out the interview below.
1) How did you guys begin? How long have you been around?
Ethan: Ah god (laughs). We’ve been around for almost three years now, coming on this summer. It’s kind of a long story, but long story short, our bass player, guitar player, and drummer (Mike, Dan and Dan) were in a band called “Bears and Bright Lights”. When I moved to New Jersey from Arizona, we had mutual friends and we started playing, and then I joined Bears and Bright Lights. We kind of, I guess formed a new band and found Kevin. We posted something on Absolute Punk and his friend saw it. He was living in Michigan at the time.
Kevin: I was working in a studio in upstate New York, and I was going to move to New York City, so I just messaged them.
Ethan: We pretty much just jammed and wrote the first EP. It was cool because Kevin and I, I grew up in Nebraska and he grew up in Michigan, so with the three others being from Jersey, it’s kinda cool being from different scenes. It’s cool to see how it all comes together.
2) I took a listen to the “You Are All You Have Left To Fear” EP. I don’t know if you’ve ever received this kind of response to it, but when I listened to the whole thing, I felt like I was watching a sunset. I don’t of any other way to describe that, but where did that kind of vibe and that tone come from when you guys were creating that?
K: Well, I know I was the one to join the band last, but (pauses) there was never really a defined sound. I remember Dan just saying “We just wanna have three guitars doing cool things”, so we play what we just play. I feel like it’s everyone just doing their own thing, really. No one really set out to do a specific sound.
E: I’ve heard people say that it makes for really good driving music. I guess for me, the two of them kind of coincide (watching sunsets and driving). They’re both really peaceful things, I mean depending on where the hell you’re driving (laughs). It’s cool that you say that, I don’t even know how to answer that question (laughs). It’s an awesome compliment.
K: We do get influenced by that. I do like to score our videos and stuff, I like doing that kind of stuff, so maybe that kind of soundtrack-ey vibe gets put into it.
3) What was the recording process like for “The Sun Will Rise and Lead Me Home”? Where did it take place and about how long did the process last?
E: Both records Kevin recorded.
K: Both records were both very similar, they were recorded in Mike’s parent’s house. We recorded the drums in his dining room/another room in the house, and we just put room mics up for that. We finished up everything else in his basement. We did all the vocals in my old apartment for both records, and then I mixed them both and we got them mastered at different places. “The Sun Will Rise” was way faster, for sure. “Fear” was when we could find time.
E: “Fear” took a long time to record. The cool thing about it is (I mean it’s also a huge disadvantage), but with Kevin recording it and us just doing it on our own time, it was so leisure. I remember when I was tracking my guitars. We were banging that out, and then we just stopped and watched like “Almost Got Away With It” on A&E or something (laughs). It was cool though. Lots of drinking.
4) Was there any particular drink of choice?
K: Mike killed like eight beers and we had to stop recording because he couldn’t play (all laughing).
E: That was definitely the best day. We definitely drank a lot of wine during “The Sun Will Rise”, a lot of boxed wine.
5) In terms of both of those EPs then, how would you say that the songs on “The Sun Will Rise” are different in comparison to the songs on “Fear”?
E: I think we thought a lot more about writing when we wrote “Fear”. When we did writing, a lot of it just came out of straight jamming in the basement, just going and vibing things out. When we wrote “Fear” it was very…. I mean, we were sitting down for six-hour sessions, recording everything, and erasing this and starting from scratch, changing tempos, changing everything. In terms of writing differences, I think “Fear” was… (pauses) not harder, but more involved.
K: It was also the first time (except for “Sleepwalker” and “The End of All Things” on The Sun Will Rise) that the music pretty much not done before I joined the band. We made a couple minor adjustments here and there, but I just added my guitar and vocal parts (in reference to “The Sun Will Rise”). But for “Fear”, I was there for the writing. It was a different vibe for the other record. Especially for me because it wasn’t like ‘Oh this song’s done!”
E: With “Fear” we were really, really writing for having three guitars. We all write songs. Like, I love to riff all day, but you can’t do that when you have two other guitar players that love to riff too. There was a lot of sitting down and we learned a lot about playing together, which was awesome because we’re about ten songs deep into writing our full length right now. It’s just seamless; it’s awesome. It’s been the greatest writing process, and I think it’s taken these two EPs to get us to that point.
K: We definitely learned the lesson on fear, on how to play with each other now. I feel like know exactly what to do in the songs now. I feel like everyone kind of learned their place. We got there on “Fear”, it just took a really long time. Now it just kind of happens right away.
6) Where do you get most of your lyrical ideas? Both in terms of style and content?
K: I write all of the lyrics. I get most of them from either from things that have happened to me in my life, or just generalized things that I find disconcerting about the world. I guess that would be the best way I can describe it. In terms of my style, this is the first band that I’ve been a singer and lyricist in. One of my best friends always sang in all my bands, and I always really liked his style. He’s very detail oriented, so I guess my kind of style of writing is like… it takes me a long time to finish writing my lyrics, because I’m very concerned about every little detail, down to like the words I’m using. I’ll go draft and draft and draft, and just continually refine it once I get somewhere. I think I take a lot of that from him since he was very much like that. He’s the only person that I saw firsthand writing lyrics, so I think that’s just where I got that from. But as far as subject matter, I’m just kind of angry person (laughs). I mean, if you let me, I’ll just go on and on about how I hate, like, a bunch of stuff, so it’s just easy for me to put it into a song, and then I can go about complaining about it that way.
7) “To Those Who Fell….” was an instrumental track on “Fear”. Where does the song title come from?
K: “To Those Who Fell…” and “….and To Those Who Carry On” is actually written on the side of one of the firehouses next to the 9/11 memorial. It was right when I moved to NYC. Standing right there was such a powerful place to be. These feelings just come over you. I was reading that and I was just feeling overwhelmed by that, and I wrote that down on my phone. I kinda have song titles because when the working titles we have for songs are ridiculous. Like the working title for that song was “Bump That Caboose” (laughs), and obviously we’re not gonna name it that. so I’ll search around and try to find something very cool to name it. I think with the subject matter of that song, the title just fit it, and the instrumental piece is just the first half of the two-part song. I thought it would be cool to have a title that we could split up into two pieces, so it just worked out.
8) Was there any particular reason you were inspired to do an instrumental track?
E: There were a few reasons. On the first record, we had an instrumental track on that as well. They’re both two part songs, they’re both in the same key, tempo, and it’s just more of a flow-ey feeling to one song. We all really liked how that one came out on the record, so when we were doing “Fear”, we knew that we wanted to have an instrumental track on it, and that song was something that I had written three (or four?) years before we wrote the record. When I started jamming with Mike, Dan and Dan, I sent them the audio files from when I hadn’t even met them. I had just recorded it in my apartment down in New Jersey. When we went to do the record, everyone was just like “Dude, we gotta fucking record that song. We’re gonna record it exactly how you fuckin’ wrote it, it’s gonna be the same thing”. We tried so hard to write it to be something, but the song was already done when it was written. So Kevin and Dan did their thing on top of it and made the song what it is today. In terms of (To Those Who Carry On), we knew that we wanted to write a song to follow it in the same tempo. We started riffing and came up with that song, and they flowed together really, really well.
9) If I may ask, on “….and To Those Who Carry On”, who was that song written about? It seemed like it was about a very specific person.
K: It was about one of my girlfriend’s friends. He died right when we were writing that record. Right when I was writing the lyrics for that song, I had no idea what that song could be about. I just had no ideas for it. I was actually supposed to record a demo that day, and my girlfriend called me. I had to drive back to Brooklyn, it was just a shitty three or four days. I knew him too, he was a good friend of mine. I just ended up writing to try and cope with that. I would just write pages and pages of stuff. It was really the first person that I knew that had ever died young and randomly. I felt that it was just so unfair, so I wrote that stream of conscious and it happened to fit writing the song. It was kinda weird that it turned out that way.
E: It’s definitely one of my favorite vocal performances on the record. It’s got that passion to it.
K: A lot of the songs I write are very generalized, and I want people to be able to interpret them any way they want. There are obviously lyrics in that song that allude to very specific things about his life, but I’ve always like that someone could listen to a song that wrote and interpret it in their own way. A lot of people have. I’ve seen people review our records and think that certain songs are about certain things that they’re not even close to getting right. It’s cool that people can interpret it that own way. That specific event happened right when we were writing it, and I just had no desire to try and cover it up with metaphors. It just deserved to be very straightforward.
10) What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
K: As far as what I hope people get out of lyrics, is that they relate to them in some way, and it makes them feel like the shit that’s going on their lives is not just unique to them, if they feel like they’re alone in that sense. I feel like a lot of the message is about the way things are right now. I feel like at a certain point I was promised that life was going to be easy when I was kid. You would just get a job and everything would be fine. But the way that the economy is now, and the way that things are going right now; I know a lot of people right now that aren’t doing as well as maybe you thought they were gonna do. Like, your friends are super-smart, they’re working dead-end jobs, etc. I feel like with a lot of that stuff, people are trying to escape from it, and not really pay attention to it, and I just want to talk about it. I feel like not a lot of people really want to discuss it, so hopefully if you feel like you need to talk about it, you listen to it and hear that there are certain people talking about this shit. I want it to have substance. It means something to me. It means a lot to me. It’s something that I’ve spent hours and hours on, so I hope people just hear that and see that it means just an ounce of that to them. If that can happen, I would be perfectly content.
E: My answer was so much shittier (laughs).
11) Future plans?
E: We’re in the final stages of getting to release the vinyl for “Fear”. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s about time! Our buddies at [DevilDance] who did “The Sun Will Rise” vinyl are doing the vinyl for us again, which is awesome. We’re going to Canada next week, we’re going to tour off of the release of this vinyl and hopefully give “Fear” the second push that it never really got when it came out, unfortunately. It’s so far in the future, but hopefully a full European tour that we’re trying to make happen. There’s a bunch of other stuff in the works that can’t really be announced yet. But we are working on the full length. We write three times a week for about five to six hours. 2013 will be a good one.