Whatever genre they might dip their hands into, Ceremony will always be punk. The band originated in 2005 from Ronhert Park, a mostly anonymous suburb 50 miles north of San Francisco and the perfect place for a bunch of pissed off kids to congregate. Lead by the ferocious yet insightful vocals of Ross Farrar, the band quickly became a must-see group in their scene thanks to tenacious performances and powerviolence that didn't let up for a second. Each successive release saw them get a little bit weirder, and a little farther from the constraints of hardcore and into the sounds of post-punk. Kids either got it or they didn't, and the group continued to shape their vision and taste for music into what they do today.
Six albums in, the band have eschewed all growing pains with their new record In The Spirit World Now, which features easily their most accomplished sound to date. The post-punk visions they began to see on Zoo and The L-Shaped Man hit an apex on their latest record, fully formed and working together with some of the punkish structures of earlier tracks. "Turn Away the Bad Thing" and various other songs on the record embody all worlds of their sound in a far more positive, exuberant outlook on a musical level. The shift in style reflects the album cover itself; colorful, strange and mesmerizing.
Beyond their sound, the band still puts on for hardcore, booking an annual festival in Petaluma, CA that boasts an insane lineup that's featured Power Trip, Nothing, Cold Cave, Gouge Away, Touche Amore and more in a perfect world of cross-band bills. We spoke to guitarist Anthony Anzaldo about the new record, facing doubters, why hardcore will always be valuable and more.
HOW DID THE BAY AREA SHAPE YOU AS A PERSON AND MUSICIAN?
ANTHONY ANZALDO Being a punk and being into underground music, whatever you want to call it, in the Bay Area was awesome. Every band came to the West Coast, every band would stop at either San Francisco or Gilman. And then venues like Slim's and Great American, and also so many house shows and DIY spaces in Oakland. At least for that time, in the early 2000s, the punk scene was really allowed to thrive in the bay area.
YEAH DEFINITELY. I THINK THE FIRST TIME I SAW TOUCHE AMORE AND DEAFHEAVEN WAS IN SOMEONE'S HOUSE.
Yeah. I think the first time Nails played the Bay Area was at Max Montez's house, who booked at Gilman later, but he was going to school at San Francisco State I believe, and he had Nails play at his house or Dorm or whatever.
HOW DID THE HOMESICK SHOWS COME INTO CONCEPTION?
I didn't necessarily have any aspirations growing up to put on shows or bring music back to our zone. Most everyone who were punks or in the DIY scene had some involvement in putting together shows, and that was so ingrained in the culture of the punk scene. That was always kind of in our ethos or blood. I had the idea to do a "festival" looking at a lot of underground festivals. I feel like right now the indie scene or whatever is more cracked open and diverse than ever before, at least in my show-going career. But a lot of the bigger events are still very genre-specific. Knowing you had to go to a Fun Fun Fun or Coachella or what have you for a diverse lineup of bands. I thought, why isn't there a more midlevel DIY fest that was really diverse? Bringing it into my hometown, I wanted to give something back to people. We played our first shows at the Phoenix Theater, and we were built from playing there.
CEREMONY IN 2019 SOUNDS A LOT DIFFERENT THAN IT DID AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER OBVIOUSLY. WHEN YOU GUYS STARTED SHIFTING THINGS UP ON ZOO, IT SEEMED LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE DIDN'T WANT YOU GUYS TO WIN, AND THERE WERE TWO PITCHFORK REVIEWS THAT SEEMED PARTICULARLY DESIGNED TO TAKE YOU DOWN A PEG. BUT JUST BY THE NATURE OF THE BAND PRESSING ON AND PUTTING ON A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT BANDS IT WAS OBVIOUS YOU WERE SERIOUS. DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAD FIGHT FOR PEOPLE TO GET IT?
No. Truthfully I've never felt like we weren't accepted. I think there are certain people and certain parties who were late to the game with Ceremony and therefore they had to speak of us in a way that their neglect of us is justified. I feel that any art that's made with honesty will allow the truth to prevail, and the truth is everything we've done has always been very true to ourselves. We've never cared or paid attention, I've literally never read the publication that you referenced before. When you want to be the TMZ of underground music, I don't respect or put any value into a publication, and truthfully what most publications have to say about art. The reviewing process isn't about music most of the time. We were a band for close to six years, and it wasn't until our fourth record when people started reviewing us at all. That's never been something that's been in our line of vision. Obviously people like you and other people we've spoken to at the beginning of this cycle have been great, I'm not saying I don't want people to read about our band, or us not to be in the public eye. I want people to be exposed to our music. But any sort of public outcry about our music is something we've never paid attention to, because we're confident that the truth will prevail.
IT'S BEEN REWARDING KIND OF SEEING HOW EACH RECORD SORT OF TRACKS THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE IN THE BAND AND THEIR GROWTH, FROM THE SUBURBAN HELL OF RONHERT PARK TO CRACKING OUT OF THAT WITH ZOO AND L-SHAPED MAN. LIKE IT SEEMS AN OBVIOUS THING THAT OF COURSE ANYBODY GROWING UP AND BEING EXPOSED TO NEW THINGS WOULD ALSO CHANGE THEIR ART.
Well the reality is that's the trajectory of every great artist. There's never been a band, and I'm not talking about ourselves, but no band who has had a long-lasting, influential career has done that. To me, and us it's the obvious way to work, we only look forward. That's always how we've conducted ourselves, and always how we made our art, with that approach since our first EP.
WITH THAT IN MIND, WHAT WAS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THIS ALBUM?
That's a hard question to answer because there's never a plan when we go into the studio. It's always very natural and organic, and the process has always been the same. What happens, the end product is just a natural occurrence. I think the biggest difference is we all live far apart for the first time ever. Usually we'd get together once or twice a week for a few hours and work on stuff, and hopefully at the end of the day for rehearsal we'd have something. For this one, there were three chunks of time where we all flew to the same place and rehearsed every day, all day for a week at a time. So there was this sort of hyper-focused mindset that we had when approaching this record and that made the process a little different.
When we got to the studio, there were these long gaps in writing so we'd work on a song, think Okay, that's cool, and polish it up at the end, as opposed to leisurely getting together. It's funny, this is the longest gap we've had from writing but it's been the most go-go-go, and most urgent process we've ever had. And that was based on the logistical variables we had. I feel like the end product, and the focus on pure songwriting came through on the final project. I really can't wait for people to hear some of these songs.
NOT TO BLOW SMOKE UP YOUR ASS BUT IT REALLY DOES FEEL LIKE THE DEFINITIVE CEREMONY RECORD, I FEEL LIKE I CAN HEAR NOTES OF EVERY PRECEDING ALBUM AND THEN A TON OF ELEMENTS THAT HAVEN'T BEEN TOUCHED ON YET.
Thank you, I think after six records we really figured out the kind of band we are and who we want to be, and got comfortable with each other's writing styles. Every record you release you want to believe it's the best one you've done, the most complete and realized thing you've done. In hindsight I can look at our catalog more objectively and separate the feelings I had when each record came out and look more objectively now, but I feel like this one really has the best songs of our catalog.
FOR YOU, WHAT'S THE STRENGTH OF A SHORTER SONG VERSUS A LONGER ONE?
It's funny, I think we've got our shortest track overall and then our longest in ten years on the album. When you're writing, you just feel it, and you can tell in the early stages in writing how much something needs to be extended on. The four of us have been writing songs forever, and we really know each other's strengths and that's reflected in our music for sure.
I'M NOT A FAN OF GENRE TAGS BUT I FEEL LIKE POST-PUNK CAN OFTENTIMES BE REALLY KIND OF DOUR OR DEPRESSIVE, BUT THIS RECORD REALLY HAS THESE HUGE EXUBERANT MOMENTS WHERE THERE'S A LOT OF RICHNESS. WHAT SORTS OF EMOTIONS DID YOU KIND OF INJECT INTO THE MUSIC?
The last record was from a really dark place and so it turned out super dark. [Laughs] But this one came from such a different place because we're all at such a different point in our lives now. Early on I knew that synthesizers would work really well with these kinds of songs, and I think that extra instrumentation would help the overall tone and mood of the album, with that I think it gives it a quirky, upbeat but also sarcastic sound. I think the type of instrumentation on this record really influenced the overall message and sound In the Spirit World Now.
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT HARDCORE TODAY AND KEEPS YOU INVOLVED?
What excites me about it is it's primarily a young person's genre and is driven by young people, and young people are often the most pure and excited. I feel like music is one of those things where a young person's voice is often the voice to be trusted. I don't feel that way for all avenues of life, but for underground music having a scene driven by people who are excited and aren't jaded by years of experience is what keeps the scene fresh. I feel like that's something not a lot of styles of music can rely on.
I feel like hardcore at its very nature, all of the best records have come from young people, there's an inexperience that makes punk so great. Look at any punk band through history, the record they made when they were 15 will always be better than the one they made when they were 40, it's just true. And that's a big reason why Ceremony doesn't make hardcore or straight up punk anymore, because it wouldn't be as good. It just wouldn't. That's not solely who we are anymore, and no one wants to hear people in their mid-thirties screaming about how the government sucks. It's always embarrassing.