You know that feeling when you are listening to a song and within the first few seconds your reaction is “Holy shit! This is good.” Well that happened to me when I first heard “Smoke Signals” the first song released off of Mirage Sower, the latest album from Reservoir. A quick breakdown of Reservoir, they are four dudes from Pennsylvania that started off making some punk infused post-emo stuff and have since evolved to a more post-hardcore Slint based type sound. Mirage Sower is their ninth release overall and to me it is their crowning achievement sonically.
As is the case with all the interviews I conduct I became obsessed with Mirage Sower and wanted to know more so I got in touch with Reservoir’s Josh Allamon (Bass/Vocals) and Justin Lutz (Guitar/Vocals) to talk about the new album and a bunch of other random stuff including Henry Rollins, slowing their sound down, and battling other bands to the death. It is all pretty scintillating stuff. Take a read, get to know the band, and go snatch Mirage Sower after your done.
Josh Allamon (Bass/Vocals): I met our guitarist Andy at the last show at Champion Ship Records in Lemoyne, PA in 2010. We talked about starting a band and the two of us would get together, play riffs, and record them on our phones so we wouldn’t forget them. Eventually we found a drummer and practiced as a three-piece for a little while.
Steven was playing in Reignition and eventually took over on drums, Justin followed soon after and we began writing Hot Water Music and Small Brown Bike-inspired songs. We’ve all known each other for a while though. Our angsty street punk bands would play together all the time in the mid-2000’s. “I didn’t vote to die.” – Justin Lutz, 2004.
Justin Lutz (Guitar/Vocals): Josh pretty much summed it up. I had just left my previous band and went to see Reignition play in mid 2010. Steven mentioned that he had a new group of guys that he was playing with and asked if I wanted to play guitar and sing, and that was that.
Within the first few seconds of hearing “Smoke Signals” I was hooked. Tell me about the decision to release the last song and longest song off the album first?
JA: We wanted to come out of the gate with something that proclaimed our change of direction. “Smoke Signals” as a song is a great summary of the album as a whole. The shifts in intensity and the layering represent what we were going for. If you like the way that song plays out, we feel like you’ll really like the dynamic of the record.
JL: “Smoke Signals” is probably my favorite song on the record. Somehow we managed to combine all of the things I was listening to at the time, from heavy sludge, to Neil Young, to Slint. I took a lot of chances vocally and it represents our new sound in a really complete way.
Throughout the entirety of Mirage Sower, the band is able to create these songs that seem to go in so many different directions and at times can feel like a completely different song. This was something that really kept me engaged throughout the album. Do you guys piece different songs together into one song? Or are you just geniuses?
JA: There was a bit of piecing completely different ideas together but a lot of it grew from the initial idea of a song. We spent a lot of time focusing on how we wanted to bridge different parts together, whether it was abrupt or there was a longer transition. That seemed to be the primary focus of Mirage Sower. To allow the listener to get comfortable with a part before taking off in a different direction. Not allowing you to settle in musically fits the lyrical content and the mood we were trying to get across.
JL: We all have a lot in common musically, but I think the extremes of our tastes are pretty different but all well represented on this record. I think that those differences are a lot of what pull the songs in different directions. If I feel the song is getting too heavy, I’ll try to pull it in a country direction. If Steven is bored playing a drumbeat for too long he’ll suggest making it a weird time signature. There are so many times on the record that it could have been a complete mess, but it somehow pulls out of the nosedive.
Tell me about the themes and subjects you guys touch on lyrically in Mirage Sower. Also, any major influences musically that inspired the songs on the album?
JL: I can’t speak for Josh, but I know that a lot of my lyric writing was focused on the broad themes of loss and change. During the writing process I experienced two deaths in the family and a pretty big life upheaval, and those feelings of anxiety and loss are pretty prevalent in my songs on the record. I was worried that it was going to be too bleak, but I really feel like by the time you reach the end of “Smoke Signals,” you’ve come out the other side, and realized that in a lot of ways you’re in control of the things that made it so bleak in the first place.
Musically I still kind of feel like we’re all over the place. There were some definite influences for me and my guitar playing, but we sound nothing like the bands I was taking influence from, so it was interesting to see something like the influence of John Moreland or Tom Waits in the context of our songs and our dynamic.
It has been a few years since your last release and I have to admit I am new to the band, but your sound seems like it really has evolved into more of a slower more dynamic vibe with the new album. Do you agree? If so was this evolution intentional or just more of natural change?
JA: Definitely agree. It was a little of both. With I Heard You As I Walked Away, there was so much going on and a lot of it was aggressive and right up front. We wanted to slow things down and truly create more of a dynamic with our music. We wanted to look at the bigger picture, so to speak, and not feel like we needed to cram every idea into one song. In Cicurina Vol. 1 you can hear the shift happening. We all began listening to a lot of slower bands that really force you to be patient with the music, bands like Low, Codeine, and Slint, so in that sense the shift was natural based on what was inspiring us. We liked how those albums made us feel.
For me the majority of the work J. Robbins has been involved with is audio gold. How did you come to work with him and how did he help bring the songs on Mirage Sower to life?
JL: Working with J. Robbins was a definite highlight of the album. I had been aware of a lot of the recordings he’d done, and when we were tossing around the names of potential engineers, everyone seemed pretty excited at the prospect. It really was as easy as sending him an email. He responded promptly and we had a phone call and scheduled the session. He really was able to capture the tone that we were after with this record.
We wanted a sound that was honed and polished, but still retained the urgency and life that we felt it had in our practice space while we were writing it. We tracked the songs live together in the same room, and J was a patient director, offering suggestions, encouragement, and guidance. In the end I think that tracking it live allowed the songs to breathe, and to really push and pull the way they should naturally. We spent a lot of time arranging vocal layers while writing this album, and having J be patient enough to try every weird idea we had was really fantastic. He created a beautiful mix that really was able to capture the nuance that I think we were aiming for.
There is another band called Reservoir out of Wisconsin, thankfully you two sound nothing like each other. Have you ever thought about challenging the Wisconsin version of Reservoir to a rock paper scissors face off for the sole rights to the band name?
JA: Maybe they could bring back Battle Bots and we could settle things that way. Or we could just do a split and tour with them and really confuse people.
The vinyl release of Mirage Sower, looks pretty cool especially that red vinyl. Glory Kid is releasing it. How did you hook up with the label?
JL: Our friends Convulsions released their albums through the label, and when we began talking to labels about Cicurina Vol. 1 Andrew was one of its earliest and most ardent supporters. It’s been a cool relationship. We were able to host Andrew’s band on the east coast in early 2015, and last year we flew to the west coast to play shows with them.
JL: We sent the early mixes to Alicia and gave her vague guidance, saying that we wanted an animal on the cover and wanted a desert/desolate type landscape. She listened to the album and sent us the cover. I think it really captures the overall vibe of the record, and has been a piece that develops more meaning for me over time.
Any new albums that have come out in 2017 that you are loving? Any that you are really looking forward to?
JA: The new Sinai Vessel album is great. I’ve been really bad at listening to new music but that one caught me because Caleb is the best and the way that record is put together is really incredible.
JL: We recently did a weekend with our good friend Tyler Daniel Bean in support of his new album On Days Soon to Pass. We were fortunate enough to see him play the entire record live three nights in a row, it’s a really magnificent work. I can’t recommend it enough. I’m really looking forward to the new John Moreland album as well, and constantly waiting for new Shores material.
I am based in Salt Lake City, what are my chances of catching a show here? Any tour plans?
JA: We were just out West this past summer but didn’t make it to Salt Lake City. We’ve got some plans to tour around the Northeast and possibly Canada. I’m not sure when we’ll make it back to your neck of the woods (desert?) but we all loved our time out there and would like to make it happen sometime very soon!
When you invited Henry Rollins to your show last year in L.A. did he attend? I think this is something you should do on Twitter with every show you play. Pick out a few famous people or people that you admire in every city and invite them. Eventually one of these famous celebs will bite and it could open the possibility of you becoming the next Adele (if Adele was a kick ass rock band) if they tweeted about how great your live show was. Thoughts?
JL: He did not attend, unfortunately. It was definitely a long shot, but it felt concurrent with the vibe and devil may care attitude of being in Los Angeles, so I gave it a shot. I’d love to have John Cusack or Bruce Springsteen show up at a gig. A boy can dream.