Glassjaw Talk About 'Material Control,' Their First Album in 15 Years
Daryl Palumbo and Justin Beck discuss the band's long break from recording and the irony of their new album's title.
Material Control, the first album from Glassjaw in 15 years, was supposed to be a surprise. The original idea, according to vocalist Daryl Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck, was to reward hardcore fans of the band by mailing thousands of box sets containing playable flexi disc “postcards” to them as a thank you. (Beck had surreptitiously compiled the addresses from his merchandising company, Merch Direct.) But that plan was foiled when a technical snafu resulted in their label, Century Media, mistakenly leaking the album title and tracklisting via Amazon two weeks before its release date. For the band, it felt like an appropriate welcome back to the music industry.
Glassjaw has always been as much a band as an immersive art project. For most of their career, which started in 1993, the group's output has consisted of only two-full length albums (2000's Everything You Wanted To Know About Silence and 2002's Worship And Tribute), yet the mythology surrounding the Long Island-based post-hardcore act has thrived due to their small but legendary catalog, sporadic EP releases, and energetic live shows. For Material Control, the band's unexpected yet highly anticipated third-full length, Palumbo and Beck wrote the material on their own and then enlisted The Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer as well as a few special guests to make the duo's artistic vision a reality.
In advance of Material Control’s release on December 1, we caught up with Palumbo and Beck while they were on the road supporting The Used to learn about why it took so long to release the album, how Glassjaw have kept their legacy alive, and why they feel like the bands that inspired them never got their due.
Noisey: I guess the most obvious question is: What's your stock answer as to why it's been 15 years between records?
Justin Beck: This wasn't necessarily the reason or the nudge, but I think it's one of those things where a dude was doing an interview and asked us what were our dreams [when we started out] and we said we just wanted to put out a record on Revelation [Records] with [producer] Don Fury. We were inspired by the simplicity in that concept and just went in and were like, “Let's [try writing some Glassjaw music], why not?” We started jamming on two songs in two fucking minutes and it triggered the whole accidental process where, over the series of a couple Sundays, we just output this entire record. As stupid as it sounds, the million-dollar question of why we started the band kind of triggered the idea to write more songs than the original goal, and that spurred an album worth of shit.
So you weren't working on this album sporadically over years?
Daryl Palumbo: I wish I could say that. It just kind of started and went really quick. Only in interviews or talking to someone who might like our music does it come up, “Why don't you put out stuff?” I think, to me and Beck, we always felt like we were slowly putting things out. We did a bunch of arts and crafts projects, two EPs, countless shows, tons of tours, and played from here to China, literally, so I felt like it always was happening. But I guess, really, [the two of us] started talking about post-hardcore stuff and kind of nailing that sound, and then we just started doing it and it happened super, super fast.
Glassjaw is a unique band in so many ways because it's so mysterious to an outsider. How much of that is planned and how much is just the way you operate?
Palumbo: [Laughs] I don't know. I feel like we plan it but we kind of don't plan it. I mean, we always have something cooking. I guarantee there's always something happening whether the kids who like the music believe it or not. When [we said] the record was coming, we weren't lying. The record has been done for quite a long time. So I feel like it's not planned, but to not rush anything is kind of the common theme. We never rush and we try not to overplay or overproduce stuff and I guess that's the plan. But everything is pretty spur-of-the-moment most of the time, right?
Beck: It's tantamount. The band or project, however you phrase it, it's this moment of output when the time is right—and unfortunately as you get older and other things come into your life, you'll be talking about something that you thought happened last week and someone will be like, "Motherfucker, that was eight years ago." You’re dog years versus human years, the lapse just changes completely. So in our mind we are like, "Oh, we did this yesterday," and you look back and it's been a two-year span. Even the way this record has been dropping and intending to be dropped, it's very hand to mouth. What we had planned versus what is happening, it's freestyling at its best.
Palumbo: The universe is a chaotic place, you've got to give into it. [Laughs]
What was the inspiration for the way you're rolling it out with the flexis?
Beck: Well, the inspiration pre-the label fucking it up and putting it on Amazon and changing the course of how we always wanted to do it? It's always [been about] just kind of rewarding fans who waited around and supported us, so we wanted it to be a gift. You send a thank you card to a cousin or Mazel Tov on your birthday or congratulations on a graduation. Us sending the flexis out was literally a gesture of thank you for giving a shit—thank you for sticking around. I mean, it just echos punk rock of the past. I loved getting flexis. We love that the technology has evolved to the fact that you can now get a flexi instead of a postcard. Why not do that? And I think it sounds great, it's a great way for people to hear the music.
Palumbo: It's the most literal fucking gesture, sending a postcard. As much as people think we're cunts, we're pretty serious about people and care about what we do as a collective, so we appreciate it and we wanted to thank those people.
Were you guys bummed about the Amazon thing?
Beck: Yes, completely. [Laughs] We wanted [fans] to get this gesture first and foremost, that was supposed to be the icebreaker. You would have just gotten the postcard and that would have been the first you heard about it—and now they told the world that Bruce Willis was dead within the first six seconds of the fucking movie. It's like they were standing out in front of the theater and telling everyone as they went in.
You do basically everything yourself in this band so it's funny that the one thing that you're not in control of would go wrong.
Palumbo: I kind of said the same thing and it's like, at the end of the day, doesn't this make the whole thing even more interesting, even to us? Our mania of it generates enough oddness for five minutes to push the whole thing forward? I don't know, wishful thinking, but it kept it interesting for us that day, we're sure of that.
Beck: My wife said it was typical Glassjaw irony: The fact that we called it Material Control and it was not controlled.
With the exception of you two, the live and recorded lineup of Glassjaw has changed a lot over the past two decades. What was it like recording with Billy?
Palumbo: I think it's probably the cleanest recording we've had as far as mental anguish. In the past, you've got to deal with people and desires and shit and I've said it a million times: It's always been Justin and myself just spitting out our ideas. On this one, we really tapped into that and didn't hurt anyone's feelings, we just kind of went in and did it. The music was written and done and we went in and showed Billy, and Billy was just a fucking beast and caught on really quick. He's a professional. The whole process was really simple; I couldn't imagine it being more simple than how we did it. We didn't stay in the studio in Hollywood for three months, we didn't camp out at the Oakwood apartments, we didn't spread the recording over two years and lose the fire. It was just us from front to back maintaining the sound. I love it. I would never want to do it any other way again.
It's such a different world now than Glassjaw has existed in in the past. A lot of your lyrics or even merch designs would be taken much differently in today's social climate. What's it like making a Glassjaw album in 2017?
Beck: I don't think we went into this making necessarily a political statement or anything that was too tongue-in-cheek. I think the objective was literally, “Yo, if we were 14 again and recording with Martin Bisi and could just be the illest, grimiest band in New York, what would the environment be like?” I think that was kind of the goal and the vibe.
Palumbo: When we were young, we were so into the whole the culture, and we still are. We just wanted to emulate these guys who were so special to us and pull from all of these forward-thinking, third-wave New York City acts that made crazy hardcore that's metallic and super groovy and definitely sounds very 90s but at the same time it sounds crushingly intense and very New York. We just really love bands that have opened our minds to a new pathway and went to the left of traditional hardcore. NYC post-hardcore was a great moment for us, we idolized those sort of guys. To get it right, it's a personal thing that we knew that we were able to do but we never nailed it that way... and the record is tasteful. It's far more tasteful than the ignorant silliness of saying disrespectful things on a record because you're a child and you're acting like a child. I think we went past a lot of that on this one.
What's the dynamic like between you two at this point, having played together for so long both together and outside of Glassjaw?
Palumbo: Insane. We've been friends since we were 14 and it feels like that so much more now because there's so many fewer people involved. As soon as [former bassist] Manny [Carrero] and [former drummer] Durijah [Lang] left, it was really like, "And then there was us, it's back to the beginning." It feels kind of the same. I don't think I sound different, I may have gotten a little bit better over the last 25 years, not by much. It feels the same to me. Out of all the types of music we could be making, this is the most Glassjaw-sounding music we could be making at this point. We're having fun doing it and there are kids that need to be babysat, but it feels good and it's easy. When we were younger, we were trying to figure out the words in our heads in real time and now it's so fast.
Beck: Before we were developing a glossary and now we can reference a glossary.
Was there a temptation to make this album more political or did you want it to be more of an escape from what's happening right now?
Palumbo: I didn't really think about it. We're not a political band. I like punk and I like the news and I feel passionate about my viewpoints and I don't think my viewpoint is too shocking, I feel like I'm in line with a lot of people my age. It's always tempting to be uber political, and there's a lot of commentary on religion and the type of topics that have popped up in our stuff over the past 15 years, but we're adults and we live in the real world. I definitely wasn't trying to be Rage Against The Machine, I don't need to discuss this with people. If someone wants to talk about it, we can talk about it, but I'm not trying to make this a political band in any stretch of the imagination.
This is probably Glassjaw's heaviest album yet. Where does the fire come from?
Palumbo: You ever walk down a city block and not get annoyed? There's stupid shit whether it's politics or anything. We're even angrier. There are so many things. If you can act that angry when you're a kid, imagine how you feel as an adult and dealing with the things that come your way. I mean, that's more frustrating but we're absolutely happy people. But the older I get, it's easier and easier to get frustrated.
So this record was inspired by tourists being in your way and that kind of stuff?
Beck: Everything. Tourists in your way and also acting as you're the only person in your own environment. Everybody is so stupid. It's just constant. Go on social media, just watching the state of youth and music, it numbs my fucking brain where people are at right now. Fuck.
Palumbo: There's social commentary but I think it's far more in a George Carlin way than anything else. There's a little about gun control and religion. The obvious.
Is it cool that the bands who inspired you like Quicksand are still releasing music? Does it feel like there's still a scene for this type of stuff?
Beck: I think there needs to be more of a scene. We always reference an old buddy of ours [A&R executive] Mike Gitter. When our demo tape came out in ‘96 or ‘97, he wrote this whole email back: “This band will never make it.” Shift, Jawbox, Shudder To Think, he just listened to all these crazy bands that we looked up to and inspired us and he was like, “This place has no scene, it will never be a scene.” Reflecting back, he was 200 percent correct. He was the guy responsible for bringing a majority of those bands to majors and they all failed on a financial level. Culturally speaking, they're greater than ever, but from a P&L perspective, it was trash and Gitter probably got fired for all of it. When we were 14, we were scared that members of Quicksand or Into Another were going to get be loved by the jocks at our high school and it wouldn't be ours anymore. Quicksand is a fucking great band. Why didn't they get bigger than the Foo Fighters? I don't know... but Spacehog made it.
Palumbo: You just almost wish there was more albums [from those bands] and [that scene] got bigger. It's a very beautiful type of music. Very aggressive, super visceral, very to the point, and it kind of captures your attention and it's got art but it's also never trying to be more than it is and I admire that. Shift and bands like that were never screaming, it was just shouting, it's very straightforward. Like Mind Over Matter's Automanipulation, I'm sure, at the most, 10,000 people have ever heard it...
Beck: Probably more like 5,000.
Palumbo: That's modern art.
Beck: That's MoMA shit right there.
Looking back, are you at all nostalgic for that period in the 90s when those bands were still making music?
Palumbo: I'm nostalgic because the records are cool but I'm not going back and wishing that I was in high school. I can't believe we're putting out a record on this kind of scale in 2017, 2018. I'm honored. I'm just nostalgic in the sense that I love those records and, in that way, I'll never not be playing them.
Jonah Bayer is on Twitter.