Evan Patterson of Young Widows on Louisville, Breather Resist and Crime and the City Solution
Young Widows (due Friday, June 3, at the Marquis Theater with My Disco, Lion Sized and Cannons), from Louisville, Kentucky, seems to evolve its sound with each album as a challenge to the songwriting skills of its members. In the renowned, post-hardcore band Breather Resist, Evan Patterson and Nick Thieneman were making some of the heaviest, wildest and most technically proficient music of its time, akin to like-minded contemporaries Isis and Dillinger Escape Plan.
When Breather Resist split in 2006, Patterson and Thieneman kept what remained of the outfit together and changed the name to Young Widows. With that change came a more brooding, nuanced sound that seems to provide a flexibility in songwriting and allows for a much broader coloring of emotional expression. This year, Young Widows put out the haunting, heavy and melodious In and Out of Youth and Lightness , which the outfit is touring around now. We had the opportunity to speak with Evan Patterson about his background, My Disco and the virtues of the Louisville scene.
Westword: How did you become interested in non-mainstream music as a kid, and how did you become involved with bands like the National Acrobat and Breather Resist?
Evan Patterson: I had an advantage over most people in that I had an older brother. He started doing bands when I was a kid. I was probably eleven years old, and he was fifteen -- the influence of old punk like Misfits and Minor Threat. Somewhere between all the D.C. music and all the Chicago music, I got really obsessed with all the San Diego bands and Gravity Records and that era of music. When you're a kid, you just want to find out everything you can about every little bit of music that you've never heard of before.
Through that, I got into playing music, and I always wanted to combine all those genres of music into one sound. Whether or not it worked well together, I don't know, but it still is kind of my interest in music -- incorporating sounds from all my favorite bands and artists and hopefully getting into some untouched areas. I played guitar in the National Acrobat. I was kind of a baby from sixteen to eighteen, and we practiced three or four times a week. It was with all dudes my age in high school, having a great time. We got to do some great tours with Isis and Dillinger Escape Plan and bands we're still friends with today.
When the National Acrobat broke up, Breather Resist was based on the idea that I wanted to do a heavy band that was just as chaotic and mathematical rock as I could possibly do. It's like every band: You have an idea, and you go with the idea, and once you accomplish it, you move on to another one. Even with songwriting in general. Once you've touched a certain area, you're kind of like, "Well, I really love what I did with this song, and I don't think I can do it any better than I did with this song." So you try something new. That whole approach.
When Breather Resist changed into Young Widows, did people give you a hard time? Was there any resistance to the new direction of the project?
I disregard most everything around me, and I do the same with people's opinions who have nothing to do with anything I'm doing. There are probably disappointed fans, and people still ask me about it. It was a really awesome part of my life. One year I was on the road for almost two hundred days, and a couple of others almost a hundred fifty days out of the year. We toured all the time and had a great time.
I still play music with Nick. It's been almost ten years, and he seems like a family member at this point. I think fans may be disappointed but I play music now that I feel like I can play for the rest of my life, and it's more fitting to my personality and my views. That was always the issue with our singer. He was always kind of hard to deal with him, as much as I loved being in a band with him. I'm still great friends with him.
In that recent Brooklyn Vegan interview, you mention the great Crime and the City Solution, also one of my favorites. What is it about that band that you appreciate the most?
Oh, man, their record Shine, in particular... I don't know what it is with that record. I heard it when I was going through a divorce, and something about that record spoke to me more than anything I've ever listened to in my entire life. It kind of has that Nick Cave ranting style to the vocals. I don't know; I can't even describe it. Between the violin, the guitar work and the minimal drum work, that record is just hands-down one of my top ten records of all time. I think it's mostly on that record where the vocals are repetitive in this way that you think, "How does he ever perform this live? How does this ever get re-created?" I even researched it and looked up live footage on line. I don't like doing that, honestly, just because watching video footage of your favorite band can be terribly disappointing.
It doesn't give you a real sense of what it was like to be there.
It doesn't. Because I'm a songwriter and a singer, I always think about how it is you recreate something after you've documented it. And when I listen to that record, it doesn't seem possible. I've read a little bit about that band. I'm a huge Mick Harvey fan, and that PJ Harvey record is insanely good. It sounds like her but there are so many things you can tell he had his hand in. So many weird melodies on that record, and she doesn't usually touch on things that are that dissonant.
My Disco is coming with you on this tour?
Yeah, they're doing the whole thing. They're actually hanging out in Louisville for a couple of weeks while we're on break. This is our third time taking them out. Are you a fan of the band?
I have to admit I wasn't too familiar with them, but based on what you've said about them in interviews, it makes them sound like a band I have to see.
They're one of those things. I love them so much, but it seems like people either love them or hate them. There's no in between. Everyone I know either hates it, or they're like, "Man, they blew me away. I can't stop listening to their records."
What is it about what they're doing that's exciting or important?
I think they're just pushing rock to its limit. They're doing this old idea like what we're doing -- combining all these things we love in music. They're taking krautrock and post-punk and industrial music and making it into a live rock band. Nowadays people aren't really doing that as much. After PiL and Killing Joke, in the '80s, a lot of that kind of stuff died out. They have a new song -- I love watching them every night -- that has a krautrock vibe, but it's a little more dub, so they're exploring new areas. They're a great band. I'd suggest listening to them before seeing them live.
In a recent interview, you said that you felt like you were no longer really linked to a DIY scene, whereas that may have been true in your previous bands. Duncan Barlow, a Louisville veteran who also used to play in bands in Denver, famously wrote a resignation letter from the hardcore scene. Was there a point where you felt for sure that shift away?
You know, I just think there's a certain level of pretension with everything, and the kind of music you're gonna play and every kind of identity that you're trying to find by playing that kind of music. Everyone wants more than what they're doing, and it's all a natural progression. I would never go so far as to say I've pulled myself out of hardcore or metal, because I wasn't born on hardcore metal. I was raised on classic rock and oldies and all these things, and I didn't have to resign from listening to oldies and classic rock when I started making punk rock.
That whole thing was really frustrating, because I really like Duncan a lot. I think that's more coming from a frustrated musician's perspective at a time when hardcore and punk rock and straight-edge were coming to a peak. Those are all things that I love, and at a certain point in my life, they were important to me. The struggle with life is getting older and how to keep on doing the things that you love to do. That's where that all plays in.
I don't know, man. I have my own opinions about it. He was in a band that was a progressive, hardcore punk band, Guilt, that was doing their version of Earth Crisis. You're just asking for a miserable time, you know? [laughs] I would never put myself in those places. I have a hard time going on tour with bands like Thursday, even though they're the sweetest, nicest guys. It's because it's not really the kind of music I'm interested in. But those shows wouldn't result in violence and ridiculous social-politics issues. It would just be my musical distaste.
But I love Louisville, and that side of it has molded who I am and what I listen to. I don't see myself living anywhere else. It's an extremely laid-back community. It's easy to do what you want to do, and rent's cheap. Houses are cheap. It's great.