Okay okay, I’ll admit it: no matter what genre, I love songs that tells a story from beginning to end. I just can’t resist James Blunt „You’re beautiful“. Then La Dispute comes around and combines post-hardcore with complex storytelling. What more awesomess can I expect from life? The album Wildlife from 2011 was a milestone of post-hardcore, with some delay the band just catch up the 10th anniversary of the album with an own Europe tour. In Hamburg, I caught singer Jordan for a chat before the sold-out show at Übel & Gefährlich.
Note: The interview is also available in German.
Testspiel: Alright, I’m gonna start with a big one, okay? Looking at your musical progess, you started with fast-paced post hardcore on „Vancouver“ back in 2006. Now with Panorama from 2019 you still play heavy but with a lot of ambient parts that would fit into a atmospheric video game. What was the driving force to go this way?
Jordan: I think that every record that we’ve done has started with a very specific vision. Our records are generally pretty conceptual in nature, they usually have an overarching theme, lyrically, which kind of creates a sonic theme as well. So I don’t know that there’s ever been like a deliberate shift from, early days to now. People always talk about getting older and maturing. I think they use that as a euphemism for getting quieter and softer and more withdrawn. But I don’t think that’s been the case for us. I think we approach every record with a specific idea in mind of how we want it to sound sonically and how we what we want to achieve lyrically and emotionally as well. So every record has kind of been a product of the idea that inspired it. And I suspect that our next record will probably be heavier than Panorama. I don’t think you grow out of heavy or fast music, we just approach everything based on what we think it requires, and work towards this goal.
So it‘s more like a from album album to album thing? Did you expect to end up in a music like on Panorama?
I don’t know that we ever expected it. We all like a variety of things and each of us have very different and broad music taste. I’ve been listening to ambient music since I was young, so it doesn’t necessarily shock me. And that’s true for a lot of my bandmates that we ended up making a record that’s very landscapy and cinematic in nature. It’s considerably different than some of the music we made early on. But I think everything is just trying new things, you experiment and see what works. And that’s part of the fun of making art.
The music on Panorama could also fit into a video game – which you guys did with „Pilgrimage“. I was wondering if you’re open to this kind of digital storytelling and what you think about artificial intelligence from an artists view?
I have not spent a great deal of time thinking about artificial intelligence. And to be honest, I am not super technologically savvy. So I get a little bit lost in the conversations regarding new developments in the field. I have a lot of friends who are visual artists who really loathe the idea of AI generated art and I have other friends who are already sort of like considering it as an inevitability and a new development and something that can be utilized as a tool to make new things going forward. I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle. As far as music goes: I don’t know how to do the video game but it would be silly to fully block yourself off from the direction that things move I’m not a big video game person but I have a lot of friends who are. They are also talented writers, big readers of fiction and narrative art and they get a lot out of playing video games.
Do you think that even more bands collaborating with Game Studios? For example you have the britsh band 65daysofstatic who wrote the music for „No Mans Sky“ or recently Japanese breakfast who made the soundtrack for the game „Sable“. I love this kind of new artistic collaboration since I love both worlds.
Yeah, I mean stories can be so vividly told in different mediums. And for a game, I mean, I suspect I haven’t played it. But I’m familiar with No Man’s Sky. And I think „Sable“ is maybe somewhat similar, whith landscapy visual world. So I think that soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment for games that are very artistic and visually stunning. So I think that’s cool.
I hope there will be way more in the future!
We had a lot of fun. One of the videos that we made for Panorama, we worked with a game designer and software developer. To just kind of fit the aesthetic really well. And to make the video game as well. And it was really fun to try new frontiers and explore a new medium, and especially because of the overall aesthetic of the record as well, it seemed really fitting.
For me, video games are the best medium for the 21st century, because it combines everything – text, visual, music…
But the television adaptation of The Last of Us was hugely popular in the US. I never played the video game. A lot of my friends have told me that I should play the game. The thought I would enjoy the storytelling and literary aspect of this. I watched the show and I really enjoyed that experience. And that’s something that was written for an interactive game and translated to a different medium that reached a lot of fucking people and that people were really, really engaged with.
The show was so great because it was so true and close and to the original game. But back to Panorama. The lyrics are dealing also with subjects like isolation, loss and depression. That became somehow omniresen with the COVID pandemic. Was it somehow helpful for you to deal with those kinds of subjects before they turn into reality?
You know, I hadn’t thought about that juxtaposition. But yeah,I do think that not just on panorama. Panorama is the first pretty personal record for me. Our last record was very fictional, stories told from the perspective of characters that I made up and wrote for. Panorama is the first one that I had written in a while where I really mind my own personal experience in my life at home. For content and through writing. I do think that reading about those things as a way to understand them better. And I think that’s true. Going back as well, to the songs we wrote when we were in our early 20s – songs about understanding tragedy, reacting to loss and reacting to difficult situations – you make art about something and you’re trying to better understand it why it resonates with you. So I think I’ve learned a lot from just sitting down and putting myself in that headspace and obviously nothing can really fully prepare you for how something will affect you when it comes. I do think that having had those conversations and myself and thought about those things in the context of my own relationships, probably helped me understand them better when everything shut down.
How did you deal as a band with the pandemic? A lot of shows got cancelled.
We canceled a lot of shows and we couldn’t see each other for three and a half year almost because we all live in different places. We finished the U.S. tour in fall 2019 and had our European trip booked. We had to cancel, reschedule and then cancel again. So not only were we not able to do shows, we weren’t able to see each other at all except on a zoom screen.
But was there a creative process?
Yes, We did. We did a Patreon, which was more or less a means to survive financially. We suddenly lost our jobs, the thing that we’ve relied on for income for the majority of our adult lives, so we kind of had to figure out how to make ends meet. And it was nice to be able to do that for the pandemic because it gave us also a reason to be engaged and to be creative. And to make things I think we ended up getting a lot out of it in that respect. We made some music, just little things here and there that we can do sending them back and forth, and sharing funnels and recording and coming together not coming together. So it was a bit tricky, but we’re here now.
How did the U.S. government treats musicians, bands, concert venues and so on during the pandemic?
Many venues and some small businesses were able to apply for loans and to stay afloat through subsidies. But for the most part we didn’t receive any financial assistance at all. So we worked jobs and did what we had to do to keep the ship afloat.
Did many clubs and venues had to shut down forever because of COVID?
Honestly, community, I had a pretty dire outlook for how it would go, I thought for sure that a lot of smaller and medium sized venues would close or be bought out by Live Nation or one of the big TV companies or production companies. And at least where I live the majority of them survive, thankfully. And I sort of thought it would be catastrophic, especially for our subculture. Yeah. And I do wonder, I do wonder about how many, you know, bands that came to exist during the pandemic, took a look around and thought „this isn’t worth it“. You know, that’s, that’s one thing I can think about pretty often not just with the pandemic, but with the way that consumption has shifted to digital and what streaming pays bands and how difficult it is to survive off an artistic income. I wonder how many people would just be deterred from giving it a shot. You know, if I had known when I was 14, deciding to not go to university and try to be in a touring band for a living. If I would have known what the financial landscape might look like, I probably still would have done it. (laughs) Let’s be honest, because I don’t think we were thinking about money in any way in our 20s. We were thinking about playing shows and making friends. But I don’t know, it’s just hard to not look at the music industry right now without seeing kind of the panic button being hit, I guess, because it is particularly difficult. So I wonder about how many bands just decided not to do it anymore.
From my audience point of view, I can clearly divide into before and after the pandemic and how the concerts were. Back in 2022 when there were more concerts it was getting back to normal. The beginning felt like a relief, like a big desire. But now it feels a bit like the easyness got lost. Not many people showing up or they bought tickets and don‘t show up. What difference do you experience now?
We really haven’t, but I think we’ve been pretty lucky. I know from talking to other friends and fans and from talking to promoters and people we’ve worked with for years that the landscape is pretty dire. Our two post-pandemic tours have been gone well for this record anniversary. The shows have been really well attended and people have been really engaged. I think we’ve been very fortunate in that respect, to be honest, because it wasn’t necessarily the expected outcome. Given what you said it was like, there was an initial push to advance gave back its economics or what was kind of playing off and people are not necessarily getting to shows.
In Germany we talk about a Long COVID of the live music industry or live music culture.
Yeah, we went out to dinner yesterday with a long known friend who booked shows all over Germany. She was saying it’s pretty much that just extremely difficult to get people to come out. In a lot of venues with hemorrhaged employees, because people who worked in the music industry had to go elsewhere. Bands aren’t making as much money and they’ve gone through years without making any money. Some things need to be paid more and it’s hard to find help. And there’s just a lot of different things kind of I think reverberating for the entire industry that make it really difficult. But we’re really having an incredible time on this tour.
This is show number 12 on this tour. What stores can you share?
This is our second show in Germany and it is sold out. We’ve been very lucky. The first show we played in Cologne was the biggest show we played headlining in Germany. And tomorrow in Berlin is going to be even bigger. The show in London before was the biggest show we’ve ever headlined. It’s pretty exciting to be this far away from home, especially because this was the tour we had to cancel in 2020. And then be welcomed in the way we have, we just feel very encouraged.
Thanks a lot for this interview and have a great show!