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Old News Delivers 'Self-Acceptance Speech'

Mel Mercer

Self-Acceptance Speech, the new album from Old News, arrives Oct. 15 via We're Trying Records.

The band's first full-length album finds guitarist/vocalist Beau Harris, drummer Max Abood and bassist Blaine Martin subverting expectations of the math rock and emo genres across material such as "Pulling Teeth," "Heads Like Projectors" and "Sunday Suit."

With basic tracks recorded at Wichita's Zeptepland, the band also worked at engineer Joey Lemon's home studio, in the Lawrence Public Library and elsewhere. Will Erickson (Team Tremolo, Spirit of the Stairs) also served as an engineer with mastering from John Naclerio (My Chemical Romance, Microwave). The band was joined by close friends Josué Estrada, Sage Judd and Natalie Lade, who added their talents to the material.

The LP is released digitally now with physical copies on CD and cassette to follow in the future.

Harris recently spoke with KMUW from his home in Lawrence.

Interview Highlights

You've made what is essentially a quarter-life crisis record. What was the inspiration for the album?

It's really a description of self and the journey it takes to find yourself. All of us, as a band, are 24-25 years old these days. That is quarter-life to a tee, and there are some really, really unique challenges that come at that age, transitioning out of the dreams that you had when you were a kid and into the dreams and the person that you are as an adult. And that's a really challenging process, but it's also … a very beautiful metamorphosis of self. This record kind of follows that journey of growing into yourself, as painful and tricky as that can be.

One of the things that you've done between the last EP and this record is relocate. I think people underestimate what a big shift that is in someone's life.

Moving from Wichita to Lawrence was a really challenging but a really rewarding process. I think, personally, I was really blessed by the support of some phenomenal friends and family and my music community. But at the same time, I'm not gonna lie: It was gut-wrenching. It was really difficult. I moved from essentially my hometown to a place where I knew no one really, had no job. I was starting from scratch, and you really learn a lot about yourself in that, but it's also extremely challenging. So a lot of this record deals with finding yourself within a new space, a new group of people a new life, and it's really rewarding.

Old News has always been my outlet emotionally, creatively. And so it is completely autobiographical. And a lot of the record deals with that relocation and my experience doing that.

Let's talk specifically about "1917 Cherry Street," which I imagine is where you grew up?

"1917 Cherry Street" is one of the many houses I lived in Winfield, Kansas. From the ages of about 13 to 17, I lived in nine different houses. I was moving constantly between cities and houses and family structures, and it was a really tumultuous time for me. So what I've kind of done as I've gotten older is I've compartmentalized a lot of my life, figuratively and literally, in these houses I used to live in. I'm terrible at song titles. So a lot of the time I'll just write about my experience living in one of these places, and then attach the literal name of the house to the composition.

1917 Cherry Street was a really formative place. It was the place that I fell in love for the first time. It was the house that my first band started in. It was where I met my best friends. But on the flip side of that, it was a house that I witnessed a lot of abuse in, where I saw marriage fall apart firsthand. It's where I lost my faith. And as a result, it's a really complicated location that meant the most to me, but also came with some of the most challenges in my young adult life.

Then there's "722 Harder Street," which I imagine is some sort of balancing of what you went through at the other house.

Absolutely. Seven twenty-two Harder Street was the house that I lived in immediately after 1917 Cherry Street in Winfield. And much in the same way that Harder Street is very brief and it's very calm, but then crescendos, that was really my experience in that house. It started off very quiet and very serene, but then came to encompass a lot of the challenges that were leftover from 1917 Cherry and kind of ended relatively explosively as I moved out of that house.

When you deal with personal things like that in the lyrics, do you have moments where you say, "I've got to back that off, it's too much" or do you look at something and say, "This is really personal but it's got to come out. I'll put it out there no matter what."

I think that emo music, which is kind of the genre that we play, tends to gravitate towards a lot of I, you, we -- really pronoun heavy statements that are inherently autobiographical, but at the same time, can be really, really on the nose. And so for Self-Acceptance Speech, we wanted to kind of embrace the emotive element, but also give it a little less obviousness. So a lot of the time I'll start off writing lyrics that are absolutely unequivocally, no holds barred, and then I will temper them down to be a little bit less on the nose.

What inspired "Flicker," which is different in tone and mode from some of the other material?

"Flicker" was my first foray into sampling. We've always worked in the analog world with acoustic instruments, but at the same time, personally, I write a lot of music that exists in the digital sphere. We were blessed enough in the studio to have access to a vibraphone and all three of us, more or less, are percussionists. So Max and I both can play the vibraphone and marimba very capably. And so what we did for "Flicker" was all three of us had mallets and Blaine had a violin bow. And so we just picked a key, which was the key of "1917 Cherry Street." We kind of did this ethereal, really ambient composition. I went and chopped those samples up and relocated them onto a MIDI pad to kind of play those different really floaty sections in kind of an interesting unique order.

And from there, I threw on some samples that we had recorded from our dear friends, Josué

Estrada and Sage Judd. We just kind of put it all together in this really spacey, peaceful meditative composition that serves as kind of a reprieve from the chaos of the first half of the album.

The album closes out with "Sunday Suit," which is unlike anything else in the Old News discography.

"Sunday Suit" is kind of our nod to our Midwestern roots. None of us play country music, but I love it. I've been trying to learn country guitar for the last year and a half or so. The deeper that I get into it, the more it kind of appears in my compositions. We wanted this arrangement of dealing with these really heavy religious topics with this kind of tongue in cheek take on country music, which we don't play, but we're surrounded with culturally all the time. So it's our nod to our Midwestern and kind of Southern roots, while also turning the formula on its head and trying to find a way to wedge country music into math rock. And I don't know, I think it came out really funny.

There are times when I listen to your songs and I hear a guitar line and compare it to what else is going on and think, "That really shouldn't work in that environment but it does so beautifully."

We're all about trying to subvert genre expectations. We play math rock and emo music. But how can we find a way to fit country and funk and jazz and all of these influences that are really important to us personally, within this kind of relatively cookie-cutter framework of emo music? Our writing process has always been we start as simple as possible, like I'm talking four or five chords on an acoustic guitar. Then we will build that into the most chaotic, noodle, nonsensical thing, and then simplify it back down into something that meets in the middle between those two extremes. That process really lets us give our instruments a unique character, while also messing with the rock formula in a way that, for us, we think is both a lot of fun and also really rewarding.

Then it's accessible on top of that, which is a feat in itself.

The genre that we often find ourselves associated with is math rock, which is a style of rock that is really angular, often really dissonant. And the whole point is that it's like time signatures shifting and it's asynchronous. And it's just frenzied. And while we love the kind of freedom from typical time signatures, we also want to make sure that like when we get to a chorus, you remember that chorus. And so for us, Old News has always been this balancing act of how do we play around in the odd-time weird, feedback-laden, shrieky space, while also being able to get it stuck in people's heads? Because at the end of the day, who doesn't love a good chorus?

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.