There was a time when the word "emo" wasn't part of a punch line. For proof, let's take a trip back to an ancient era known as the '90s, to a place called Lawrence, Kan. Or Omaha, or Champaign, or wherever — really, any place in the Midwest you tend to forget about will do. Now listen. Hear that? I told you it wasn't all garbage. Check the Mineral deposits. Notice those Promise Rings? This area was once Sunny Day Real Estate, and that cast you see there is no fossil, my friend. That's The Appleseed Cast.
"What brought us to Lawrence was that our bass player was from Lawrence, and we used it as a hub on our early tours," The Appleseed Cast singer-guitarist Chris Crisci explains in an email about the band's early move from California to Kansas. "We made a lot of friends there. It does have a great artistic community with a lot of good bands. It just kind of felt right. Still does 15 years later."
We maybe had some unreasonable expectations for The Appleseed Cast. The first album was good if nothing exceptional, and the second showed promise. Then came albums Nos. 3 and 4 — a double album, for practical purposes — and calling The Appleseed Cast "emo" didn't seem fair anymore. By this point, that whole scene had gotten a little ridiculous, and the pejorative use of the term was gaining steam. But while it seemed like The Appleseed Cast was getting out while the getting was good — the leap they made on the two Low Level Owl albums is hard to overstate — Crisci says that the records weren't any kind of reaction.
"I like writing songs and recording, and that's pretty much the end of planning," Crisci explains. "I work on songs independent of those kinds of external considerations."
To that end, Crisci's band has been a workhorse ever since, even as he remains the sole original member. The Cast's post-emo sound rests heavily on atmospherics and studio finesse, looping drones and cyclical guitar lines that echo off cavern walls. Crisci says the band had only a few songs written before going into the studio for LLO.
"It was going to be a straight-up noise album, with two songs bookending each," Crisci explains. By the time they got to the studio, they had a few more songs in the bag, but they still cranked out nearly two hours of material in total. Crisci explains that a lot of songs are still written in the studio that way, including this year's Illumination Ritual. "I wanted to bring a more up-tempo, math-y, less glossy sound out."
But while the output has been somewhat steady, there have been significant hurdles. One was the folding of Tiger Style, the record label that released the LLO follow-up Two Conversations. The result was a lengthy hiatus that was compounded by the loss of innovative drummer Josh Baruth. Not only that, but also the band's tour van and trailer were run off the road in early May. The Appleseed Cast estimated about $8,000 worth of gear was wrecked, and a donation page was set up to replace the equipment.
"We have everything we need to play shows and write and record, and that's what matters most," Crisci offers. "We are very grateful for the generosity people showed to keep this thing going."
And if people's relationship to emo has now moved closer to nostalgia, Crisci's newer obligations as a father probably haven't given him the opportunity to notice: "Instead of wasting a lot of time and then getting around to doing some writing, now I'm busy and then get around to doing some writing."
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