Like any natural resource, music is often defined in terms of geography. In California, for example, we find a rich surplus of hardcore music: a subgenre of punk rock fostered on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles in the 1980s, whose youthful grittiness belies the sunny postcard image of the Golden State. The raw, and in some ways rudimentary, aspects of the genre, combined with the sheer accessibility of it in California, make hardcore a popular jumping-off point for young musicians all over the coast and often lead to further exploration of rock, hip-hop, and electronic music. But what does it sound like when hardcore grows up? Can one mature emotionally within the genre, or is that by definition a departure? Certainly, if anybody would know, it is Ceremony, one of the most respected bands to succeed in the tradition started by bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Fear. And now, with the release of their fourth full-length, Zoo, Ceremony has become one of hardcore’s greatest challengers, too. Recently, I took a call from lead guitarist Anthony Anzaldo to talk about Zoo and the band’s new partnership with Matador Records.
Soft spoken and super friendly, Anzaldo is probably not the guy you would picture behind the brutal guitar work of Ceremony’s older material. He’s a pop music junkie who loves artists like Justin Timberlake, Madonna, and Prince, and he’s not alone: “We have a very diverse taste in music in the band,” he told me. “Andy, our other guitarist, we’re on the same page now. There’s some big rap and hip-hop fans in the band that I don’t really do too much of, but we’re all accepting.” It may be this acceptance of their divergent influences that led to the band’s newest incarnation in Zoo: a relatively clean, comprehensive album that leans more toward late-1970s punk than their seething interpretation of ’80s hardcore. Both fast and slow, creepy and upbeat, Zoo finds Ceremony working through a more complex range of emotions than previous records, making for a rewarding listen.
A departure this may be for the Bay Area-based five-piece, but according to Anzaldo, it’s the only way a full-time band can keep their sanity. “We don’t really stop or go on hiatus or take breaks,” he explained. “The writing/recording/touring cycle has never ended since we put out our first full length [in 2006] … so writing new music is what makes it not monotonous. It’s exciting to write new stuff and test our boundaries. I feel like, if we wrote the same style of music and the same record over and over again, we would have gotten burned out by now, but hearing the end result of the music that we create makes it still very exciting.”
The excitement doesn’t end there for Ceremony. Zoo marks the band’s first release with Matador Records, a prominent indie label whose roster includes artists like Sonic Youth, Interpol, and Kurt Vile. This week the band kicks off a tour that includes dates in Australia, Canada, and Europe. Having seen the influence of California hardcore music all over the world, Anzaldo had a few words to say about how Ceremony fits into the legacy: “I think for us it was easy because it’s really accessible here. Not only that, but the bands that are from these geographical areas have molded this sound … L.A. ’80s hardcore, that sounds like a specific thing. That sounds a lot different than the late-’80s East Bay scene.”
The scope is certainly widening for Ceremony, and with the help of Matador, more people than ever will be exposed to their music. But regardless of where hardcore is headed and how Zoo will be perceived within the genre, Anzaldo says they only plan on doing one thing: “We’re gonna do what we always do, which is get in a van in Northern California, leave for 30 days, and play sick shows.”
Ceremony plays an all-ages show at Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Monday, May 28 at 8 p.m. Call (805) 965-8676 or visit newnoisesb.org for tickets and info.