UTG INTERVIEW: Hostage Calm’s ‘Die On Stage’ Is Their ‘Born In The U.S.A.’

Hostage Calm

In 2012, there were countless people frantically concerned that the world was coming to an end. To some, it didn’t matter that December’s doomsday was approaching. At least they’d have the time between October 9 and the end of the world to blast Hostage Calm‘s breakthrough record Please Remain Calm.

On September 16, we will see the formal release of Hostage Calm’s new record Die On Stage, although if you’re a fan of the band, I’m sure you’ve streamed or bought it online already.

The staff at Under The Gun Review have collectively been longtime supporters of the Connecticut band, so we decided it was entirely necessary to get a hold of vocalist/guitarist Chris “Cmar” Martin to talk about the new record.

Check below the jump for the UTG exclusive interview and the band’s upcoming tour dates.

die on stage

The last time we spoke we talked about Please Remain Calm being your band’s manifesto and how it was a representation of the youth and the circumstances they were enduring at the time. Would you say that Die On Stage has a theme to it as well?

I do. The album deals a lot with the loneliness of American life. It comes on the heels of a major breakup with a longtime partner of mine and the record kind of documents life after love for me, and moreso the kind of darker interpersonal experiences where you’re starting to meet new people. You’re lonely, you’re kind of wandering through this new environment, that for me I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager, just because of the nature of my prior relationships.

It definitely takes place in the same environment as Please Remain Calm, but it gets more to the social element. It’s steeped in the politics–everything is political–but it gets more to that social interpersonal level of what it feels like to live and be a young person in modern America.

Please Remain Calm has often been compared to The Clash’s London Calling. What iconic album would you like Die On Stage to be compared to as far as scope?

I don’t know, that’s tough. We’re certainly eternally inspired by London Calling, and it’s very flattering that people make that association. I’d say Die On Stage– I’m going off the cuff here- it’s definitely our biggest sounding record. It is a record that celebrates the enormity of our sound and in that respect, I don’t see why it wouldn’t be like a Born In the U.S.A. type of thing. A mammoth sounding record, at least sonically, that was what we wanted.

When I listened to it I could hear that bigger grandiose sound, but it doesn’t overpower the listener. Subtle chimes and instrumentation in the background adds a huge touch. Minor details make a bigger sound, if that makes any sense.

Yeah, absolutely. I love things to be singular and defining. For instance, it’s a stock thing to have backing chords and a lead guitar. There’s nothing wrong with that, the history of rock music is littered with that. But I thought to myself, “What can we make that’s like a voice?” Like when somebody sings, you have a voice. That voice is a theme across a record, it’s singularly communicative. When you look at the guitar parts, we took this kind of mesh of guitar, organ, synth, glockenspiel, bells, piano and created this blend that is sort of this lead instrumental voice on the record. A lot of times I’m singing at the same time that these things are going, so there’s sort of this sense of a voice that carries the record and it stands out as its own thing. As soon as you hear “Fallen Angel,” and that guitar riff and the way that it mixes with the bells, piano, synth, organ, etc. Those layers make it, a lot more creative way to go about expressing ourselves than, “Here’s a guitar lead, here are the backing chords.”

I never learned the drums because in elementary school, the drum pad came with the glockenspiel. I wasn’t carrying that heavy thing with a dinky drum pad. I wanted at least a snare. Plus I couldn’t even get a drum roll going…

I actually started off as a drummer believe it or not. When I was in elementary school I got the drum pad and I don’t know why I was able to stick with that and not be bored with it, but maybe simple mind, simple pleasure. That was how I got started in music was with a drum pad. I wish they gave me a glockenspiel, maybe I could’ve done this whole Hostage Calm thing like 15 years ago.

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Speaking of simple mind, I know you’re a strongman who’s very into your health. I find it funny for someone who’s so into fitness to be so mild mannered and reserved.

I think that a lot of weight lifting certainly builds on self discipline. It’s really built on intellect and if you’re doing something like powerlifting, understanding the fundamentals and getting to the crux of what makes something work is what makes something successful.

I guess for me that’s that outlet for that intensity, so is playing music. I think a lot people are even more surprised when I’m in regular common life and I’m talking to some 52-year-old person and that person says, “Wait, you’re a singer of a band? I never would’ve expected that!” I guess because I am kind of reserved in daily life, but I think that I have a reverence for those dynamics. There is a time to be super drawn down, and there are times to be fuckin’ full tilt. I’m happy to play the whole spectrum for sure.

Alright, let’s get an honest answer to this question. When you found out that Die On Stage leaked early, were you full tilt or reserved?

I’m bummed for Run For Cover Records, because they put so much into us. Obviously, I was just happy for people to hear the record. For me it was such an overwhelming positive response and I’m just happy we started to unleash it. Part of me is bummed that RFC had that happen, but as far as it concerns me, it’s no secret that people have been downloading records for over a decade. When I was getting into punk that’s what I was doing. I got respect for kids out there who are just hungry for new music. I think that when RFC throws up the $5 download of the new album, it makes it so people don’t have to be in this weird spot where they are hungry to hear music but they feel bad because they need to download it. You give them a nice easy avenue to support; it’s affordable and they can rock out to it. I think it’s a perfect middle ground.

The video for “Your Head / Your Heart” seems to have a serious Beatles thing going on there. So you think you’re The Clash, you think you’re Bruce Springsteen, and now you think you’re The Beatles, too. Is that what we’re getting at here?

We’re basically all the great rock legends of all time just melded into one thing.

Jokes aside, was that video a blast to shoot?

Oh, it was so fun. Well it was super fucking hot in there. Every single take ended with being wiped down with towels. We had the AC blasting but it was July. It was a definitely a blast to play. I was playing a Rickenbacher. I don’t remember if I played the 12-string or the six. We have both at our disposal, but, we were in suits. Our band loves that stuff. You know, the semi-campy over-the-top early ’60s rock stuff. Growing up I always thought it was very tied to punk, like “You Really Got Me Now.” I would think to myself, “That’s as driving and as full-tilt as any punk song,” that I could’ve fallen in love with at age 12. For me, for us, it’s really fun for us to play along with the announcement that they’re in the concert hall, they’re in the living room now, that whole lead in. It was a good time to have that sort of old flair.

I noticed that you seemed very comfortable with the theatrics of singing like an Elvis or a Johnny Cash, the way you lean into the mic but keep your body at a distance.

Yeah, it’s not that different from how we probably perform. I didn’t feel like we had to do things much differently. Now people have different mics for each performer but we were singing into one mic. That was a super nod to the classic old-time, early rock. To us, we love that shit. That flair has inspired us. We’re always reflecting that reverence for The Clash or Elvis or whatever. You’ve got your right foot forward and you’ve got your guitar sitting right on your thigh there. I mean, that’s rock and roll.

“Someone Else” seems like a really personal song. Can you tell me about it?

The song tackles when I had left my ex. All of a sudden I was thrust into this world where now there are different partners and I found that at one standpoint it was quite alluring, and at one standpoint it was kind of a dark place. There are these people that you don’t know and they don’t care about and there’s a real sense–if you’re being honest with yourself–that it can be a dark place. I felt like the darkness in those chords and the darkness in that melody and the darkness in that stark, “Someone else for someone else,” that captured a lot of the longing and desperation and the various acts of desperation that probably went down in the wake of love lost. You’re out there just trying to find your way, and it’s not always as romantic as maybe you envisioned it.

I hear what you’re saying. I had a sudden breakup about a year ago, it wasn’t too long of a relationship but I considered it my first real one. I didn’t really know what to do with myself or how to operate.

That’s the whole thing with “Someone else for someone else.” You’re asking people out on dates, you’re texting, it’s just another world. You feel almost like you’re not yourself if it’s not what you’re used to for a long time. For me, I was in a relationship for six years, so it was just all of a sudden like I was a teenager again. Part of that is reflected on the album in this super romantic fucking stoked way. But I think that the album has its extremes, and those extremes are something the album celebrates and really takes on.

Here’s a question. For example, when I got out of my relationship, I cut off all ties on any kind of social media and we haven’t spoken in literally a year. But for you, you wrote music about it and shared it with the world. It’s out in the public. Are you comfortable with that? The notion that this person could potentially even read this interview?

It neither makes me uncomfortable and neither is the interview or anything like that. I’m not venting, I don’t need that from a therapeutic standpoint or anything like that. I think the writing is. For us, with the whole ‘Die On Stage,’ concept, you take on the responsibility that goes with art. The responsibility to be honest and shoot for some high artistic achievement, I think that you’re taking on that vulnerability. You’re going to be vulnerable, you’re going to leave yourself out too bare. So for me, that’s something that comes with the territory. I feel like you’d almost be cheating if you weren’t going to take it to that level.

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So, do I hear Vinnie Caruana on a track?

Yes, he sings on the song “Raised.” Vinnie has always been a longtime supporter of Hostage Calm. He took us out on tour while we were still on the self-titled with I Am The Avalanche, so he’s always been supportive of us. He’s been in The Movielife and now I Am The Avalanche, bands that really inspired us. And he’s from that Long Island scene that really inspired us. I almost feel like so much of our band’s career has been interwove with what I Am The Avalanche and what Vinnie has done. He’s the perfect person to have on that song both sonically and as far as his spiritual involvement in the band.

In that song you say, “I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am.” That’s pretty heavy. What’s the thought behind that?

I love wordplay. I love manipulating expectations. When someone thinks I’m going to be saying something totally different at the end of that statement. That song really is one of the most fatalistic on the whole record, it’s kind of celebrating the out of control emotional desperation of this generation. It’s not trying to say what it should be or shouldn’t be, but it’s celebrating that extreme. For us, punk has always been an iconoclastic project, so the bands we loved and the things we loved, we romanticized that which is controversial and pushing boundaries. That’s kind of a theme that runs along this band. Sometimes I have to tell myself that sometimes it’s better to be hated than to be loved, because it shows you that you’re challenging things. That song was just a little reminder; I look at that line and think to myself, “Yeah, be strong with what you’re doing. Don’t fucking back down. Don’t be subject to what people are saying about your record or your band, or your personality.”

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During the track “12/31,” you reference “Auld Lang Syne,” the whole, “Let all acquaintance be forgot…” It’s such a cool moment. Where do you get the idea to incorporate something like that? I looked up the origin, it’s actually derived from a poem written in 1788.

Yeah, you never hear it referred to as that, but you recognize the iconic melody. We used it as the bridge and play off the words. The song is really synonymous with New Year’s Eve now and with this sort of nostalgia that goes with reflecting upon a year and being anxious or whatever for the year ahead. I remember on the song “Patriot,” there is a part where we do the actual melody to the National Anthem where we sing, “Oh say can’t you see, that they’ve taken you from me.” It’s fun to play off of something that’s such a pop-culture staple at that point and to play with expectations and to help challenge the notion of New Year’s Eve as this fun thing. You know, in the context of that song it’s not fun, it’s a lonely night. By using that melody you can evoke a lot of the feelings from that time and also challenge folks. I know there will be people who hear that song and love “12/31,” and they’ll hear that song sang on New Year’s Eve and it’ll have a different little meaning to them. For us, that’s a great interplay between different artistic pieces.

When the album leaked, even though you were bummed, on your personal Facebook you called it “The finest moment in my young artistic life.” What made you come to that conclusion?

It’s the best record we’ve ever made. It’s the best record I’ve ever written. The best produced. It really would get every superlative that I could come up with regarding our music or our artistic pursuit in general. I look at that record with nothing but pride. As I’ve gotten older and been playing music, I understood that “Wow, we have a legacy now.” We’ve made multiple records, we’ve played all these places, we’ve toured with all these bands and made music videos. There is this sense that we’re cementing this sort of legacy and I’ve started now to take a step back and see where a record like this fits in that legacy, and I think that that’s a big thing with Die On Stage. Somebody asked me recently what I thought it meant to die. And I spoke about how death is the finality of effort, it’s the end of the material existence; of the big push. That’s it on the material end, but then it’s possible that you’ve created things that live well beyond your life, or live forever. I think we have a record that can stand that test of time and that even whenever this band dies or the people that are in this band, their lives are done, you have this record that you’ve launched that can carry your legacy.

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To buy the record, head to the Run For Cover Store.

Interviewed by: Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli

Derek Scancarelli is a feature writer, interviewer, videographer, photographer, radio-er and more. In 2015, he received his MA in Journalism in New York City. In addition to Under The Gun Review, Derek has worked with Noisey (VICE), Alternative Press, New Noise Magazine and many more. He also pushes some buttons at SiriusXM.

Comedian Jim Norton once called him a serial killer on national radio. Enjoy the internet with him on Twitter.
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