"Ultimately, I don't really care," says American Nightmare frontman Wes Eisold — clad in black leather with his sunglasses on indoors at a posh hotel in Williamsburg — when asked what he hopes listeners take away from the Boston hardcore group's new self-titled LP, its first in 15 years. It would be easy to mistake the statement for pretense, but the subtext there is less about Eisold's relationship with his fans and more about his relationship to his art, the band and its current incarnation. The new LP, a taut nine songs in under 20 minutes, reflects where American Nightmare is in 2018, and that's all that matters in their world.
American Nightmare originally formed in 1998 and split in 2004, leaving a demo, a pair of full-lengths and a couple seven inches behind in their wake. In the years that followed, Eisold formed the supergroup Some Girls (featuring members of Unbroken and the Locust) and eventually Cold Cave, the latter of which grew to be a force in the goth and industrial scenes, arguably kickstarting the wave of dark synth-pop bands currently gracing the covers of indie rags worldwide. Cold Cave took on a life of its own, and with each notch chalked in the victory column, there seemed to be a matching notch tallied in a column marked "chances American Nightmare will never reunite."
Until they did reunite in 2011, that is — starting with a pair of shows in Revere, Massachusetts, and Los Angeles and eventually leading to precision strikes each year. Unlike so many (read: all) hardcore reunions, American Nightmare's resurrection seemed on course to keep its momentum going, with the band selling out show after show, as opposed to so many others whose audience seem to half with each respective outing.
But now comes the real test — a new LP (you can order yours here) followed by a string of U.S. dates. How will the crowd react? What does American Nightmare mean in 2018? What does the band's resurgence represent for Cold Cave? We asked those questions of Eisold, who opened up about the new LP, his other projects, his view on hardcore's contradictions and perils, and much more.
What was your biggest concern about a new LP with American Nightmare? Clearly the success rate on reunion albums isn't quite in your favor.
Well much like you said, typically when a band comes back, they usually blow it for a variety of reasons. I can't relate to why a band would do that but it must be some version of insecurity — not being sure where they fit in anymore or what type of record they want to make. It's usually capitalizing off of a band's legacy — maybe the band got bigger during their time away.
For us, we didn't have any of those delusions. I'm not trying to sell our record as the greatest comeback record, I just know that for us, the majority of the band is still really involved in music. So going into it, I felt confident in making a record and wasn't delusional. Also, now that the years have gone by, I know what I like more, so it was easier to approach it in the sense of what we wanted and how we could make what we understood to be a timeless record. We had no interest in recapturing what the band was before, but we also didn't want to betray what it was. That was the main reason for having it be self-titled and the album art just being the logo. I wanted to make a primitive hardcore-punk record that was semi-conceptual without being annoyingly conceptual. It is purposely stripped down, short and sweet. Sort of like a demo of sorts, except this is a demo of who we are now.
Hardcore in 2018 is littered with the bodies of bands that have come back and overstayed their welcome. I'm sure you're aware of that. What were your personal caveats on returning in the first place?
I think the biggest one is can you contribute to ...
The current climate?
No. As a matter of fact, I don't think American Nightmare fit in when they were around, and Cold Cave certainly didn't either — there were minimal synth groups but not Eighties-sounding synth groups. Current hardcore — I have no interest in trying to fit in what's going on now. That's not cool to me. I guess I'm more concerned with the idea of "can we contribute to the idea of American Nightmare as a band?" And that I thought we could do. If we didn't have songs that were in line with what I thought were worthy of the band, I wouldn't have done the record. It felt like the right thing to do. This isn't some sort of "grand comeback" — that's not interesting to me. I still hate all of the "business" of music — the joyless aspects of being an artist. It's great when you meet people who do get it, but often it is frustrating. Particularly in a world like hardcore where there is a fine line between progressive and regressive fans. American Nightmare has always kind of toed that line and I like that. Ultimately, I felt like I had things to say with this band and I tried to make art that would appeal to me either as a kid or who I am now.
When I listen to older American Nightmare records, I don't particularly like either LP — it's not really anything I'd want to listen to. I really like the seven inches, especially the second one, a lot. But there are aspects about it that are pretty dated to me. I feel like for this record we were able to dodge that.
That's one of the most negative aspects of hardcore — the bandwagon effect. A band comes out of the gate with a fresh idea and then it's beaten to death by 1,000 other bands who co-opt that same idea.
Exactly. The joke in Boston was that we all loved Converge but hated them for what they influenced.
Going back to what you were saying about progressive and regressive fans — did you ever feel like the tough-guy fan ever weighed on you as an artist?
Towards the end, definitely. I got so bored of it. On one hand you want people to get the release that they need — that's important for hardcore. But at the same time it's hard for you to see a fan who is having an emotional connection to your work to get kicked in the face by someone who maybe doesn't. You can't generalize or judge every person, but most people are attracted to this music because of some sort of abuse — mental, physical, whatever. So I never want to police people's reaction to the music, but doing it every night for a long time gets old. It feels disrespectful to you, this world you're creating and to the people who want to join you for whatever reason they are there. It's not just about one person, ever. It's about the mass, and the connections and the music, ultimately. Do what you want, but be cool about it. Towards the end I just wanted to do something that would attract a different physical reaction.
After American Nightmare it was great to do Some Girls for a bit because it provoked a different reaction. It was people freaking out but not violently. And ironically, I felt like the music of Some Girls was way more violent. It's a fine line — you can't exactly say what's right but you know when it's wrong.
What's going with Cold Cave right now?
I'm finishing an LP right now and planning a month-long U.S. tour. More details on the way, but look for it this year.
What's really fascinating to me is the fact that you are in two very cult-y bands within two very cult-y genres ...
It's a really strange position. I'm fortunate to have really dedicated fans to where I can continue to do it. With Cold Cave we release our own records, don't have a management team and do most of it DIY. I do the mail order often.
Hardcore is so funny — and I don't want to generalize because there are so many cool people in this scene — but the funny aspects are things you forget about until you take one step back into it. I was tagged in some review, which basically loved the record but was being negative about the price of tickets. I don't make the ticket prices or anything like that, which is funny, but the review basically said, "Fuck Wes and his ticket prices. They're just expensive because he wants to dress like Aleister Crowley."
[Laughs] Turn of the century outfits are hot right now.
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess maybe he did wear a T-shirt and a leather jacket.
One of the coolest things about the upcoming tour is the support and how well-curated it is. That said, is punk and hardcore part of your current lexicon?
I picked every band for the tour. Every show we play I pick every band by hand. Even with Cold Cave, I think that I'd be fighting who I am if I didn't have involvement in every facet of the tour. That's how I grew up and those are the circles I run in. It's funny because in some senses we do need to step away from who we are because otherwise we'd only play punk venues. [Laughs] And the great part about that is seeing some of the same people in front for both Cold Cave and American Nightmare shows. That shows that it's not just about genre, it's something bigger.
When Cold Cave first started, I wanted to distance my past from my then-current project. So I didn't want to put my name on things until it was a point where it didn't matter anymore — I didn't want to be seen as "the hardcore guy's electronic project." Even way back when American Nightmare started, I felt like I was done with current hardcore and some of the clique-iness and lack of true understanding that comes with it. I was burned out on it. So it was super rewarding to find an audience who understood me and where I was coming from with the band. Those people have grown with me over the years.
What do you hope people take away from the new LP?
Ultimately, I don't really care. But if you are in tune with the band and who we are as people, I just think it'll make a lot of sense to you and the music and aesthetic that you connect with. I wanted it to be a record that was influenced by music we grew up with and still matters to us, as opposed to a modern hardcore record. I love this record for it's brevity and how dark it is — I love brevity in everything. I still feel like I want to contribute to that legacy of simplicity that was started with the Velvet Underground — a song with a couple of chords in it, that's all I want to listen to.
The lyrical aspect of this record is in a way a tribute to the different lives that I've led and those who have been a part of my life. One of the most loving parts of punk and hardcore is meeting people who come from similar backgrounds, which leads to these explosive friendships that last a lifetime or a day. I don't consider this record a celebration, more of an acknowledgement of feeling like an outsider and all the things you felt growing up are legitimate. And that it's OK to still feel that way.