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An Interview With John Saxen of Black Recluse + New Track “Send Me to Hell”

The phrase “post-Jane Doe hardcore” generally provokes one of two reactions from metal fans. Best case scenario, it’s shorthand for the kind of band that takes an adventurous approach to songwriting, bringing together disparate influences in a way that feels completely organic – the kind of band that can basically do whatever they want and still sound completely like themselves. Worst case, it’s code for “riff salads,” “unfocused,” “spazz-core,” or “shitshow.”

Indy’s Black Recluse land squarely in that first category. As anyone who’s been fortunate enough to catch their incendiary live show can attest, Black Recluse somehow manage to sound like at least ten different bands over the course of one of their fifteen blitzkrieg sets without ever sounding like anyone other than Black Recluse. They are a fucking force of nature on stage, and early indications are that their forthcoming EP Send Me to Hell comes really close to matching their manic live persona. On the EP’s title track, which we are hella stoked to be premiering below, what may seem at first like a straightforward punk song actually proves deceptively complex after repeated listens. Elements of black metal and d-beat collide with flashes of dissonance over the course of the track’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 70 second run time, meaning that listeners can appreciate the track on two different levels – as a balls-out ripper of a punk track, or as a surprisingly nuanced balls-out ripper of a punk track. Either way, the odds are pretty good that you won’t be able to feel your face by the time the song ends.

Black Recluse guitarist/vocalist John Saxen (aka “long hair”) was good enough to answer some questions for us via email about a variety of topics, including the new EP Send Me to Hell. Check it out while you jam our exclusive premiere of the title track below, and keep an eye on their Bandcamp page to snag your copy when it drops on Friday, January 5.

Indy Metal Vault: So first off, congrats on the new EP, Send Me to Hell. It seems like it’s been a long time coming – aside from the unreleased stuff on the Something Old. Something New. Something Punk. Something You. comp, is this basically the first new music from Black Recluse since 2014?

John Saxen: Yes and no. The last release, Something Old. Something New. Something Punk. Something You., was a “remixtape” project with producer Ichabod Prenup. It was older demos and unreleased songs in addition to our collaborative remixes. The new EP, Send Me to Hell, is somewhat more focused. Some of the music was written almost entirely during band practice in the last year, and some was my solo material that I waited years to have a live band interpret for a definitive recording. With Black Recluse, the right release will happen when it’s supposed to happen. If we only come up with a ten minute tape every three years, so be it. If two years from now, we write and record a brilliant remix of something from our first EP, we might release that too.

IMV: I know this is kind of a clichéd question, but since there isn’t much out there about Black Recluse on the web, can you talk a bit about how the band came together? I know that you had a punk band called Bolth that was active from 2003-2009, and then Black Recluse came together in 2013, right? Has the lineup been “Long Hair, Short Hair, and No Hair” from the start, or did it take a while for the band’s current form to come together? And I know you were looking to add either a second guitarist or someone to handle visuals – how’s that search going?

JS: The bassist and drummer have each been replaced a number of times, until Shane (short hair) joined the band two years ago. Kris (no hair) joined less than a year ago, and then I finally felt we were locked in as a lineup. The hair nicknames are just an unfunny joke that I thought also circumvented the wack “who’s in this band” preconceptions that I see a lot.

The search for a second guitarist and/or visual artist yielded some responses, but none of them kept in touch. I have no interest in adding a member unless they’re beating down our door to do the damn thing. That’s the work ethic (among other things) that sets Shane and Kris apart from other musicians.

IMV: Based on what I’ve heard of the new stuff from catching you guys live a few months back, it seems like there’s been an evolution in your sound since Walk it Off, your last EP. To my ears at least, that’s a much more straightforward-sounding punk record, whereas the new stuff seems to be a lot more stylistically diverse and complex. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? And if so, was there anything in particular that prompted that shift in sound?

IMV: I wouldn’t say it was prompted by anything. I will say that once a band has stuck around long enough and managed to get people’s attention, you can let your songs breathe a bit without the risk of people going outside to smoke during a less straightforward part of the live set.

IMV: Probably an odd follow-up to a question about evolution, but according to the notes on Genuis, “Send Me to Hell,” the song we’re premiering today, actually dates back to 2009. Is that just the lyrics, or the entire song? And how representative is “Send Me to Hell” of the rest of the EP?

JS: This brings me back to that first question. I’ve had that song in the chamber for ages, but only with this lineup and in this recording does it feel right. I wouldn’t say anything in particular on the EP is more “representative” than anything else, and that’s only because it’s meant to be a contiguous yet diverse effort (just like our nearly non-stop live set). I want listeners to know it’s a still Black Recluse record throughout, but I want to move throughout our handful of genres freely. I’m not interested in making a record that is X tracks separated by pauses, with each song having the same recognizable basic elements.

Photo Credit: Garret Lemons

IMV: What was the recording process like for the EP? Given how DIY your overall approach is, I’m guessing you did everything yourselves?

JS: Absolutely. I used to record bands professionally which is why we have studio access virtually whenever we need it. Ichabod fills in any gaps with my production. I handle the rest.

IMV: Lyrically, “Send Me to Hell” takes on religious hypocrisy, both in terms of violent extremist groups that ignore the more peaceful tenets of their faith, and the more common (at least in America) move of using one’s faith to justify hateful rhetoric. I particularly appreciate the reference to Chick-Fil-A – they don’t open on Sundays because of their religious beliefs, but their charitable foundation has also donated millions of dollars to groups like Exodus International, who practice so-called gay “conversion therapy,” and The Family Research Council, who the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as an anti-gay hate group. I’m curious as to which you think has done more harm in this world – the jihadists, or businesses that quietly give financial support to organizations with hateful agendas?

JS: First, I want to make it very clear that this song is about violent hypocrites, and it was written during a very self-destructive time in my life. I’m using the imagery because it’s common, and it is absolutely not meant to inspire blanket animosity against specific religions.

To answer your question, it’s worth noting that both of these groups have foot soldiers with entrenched miseducation, whether it be the 16 year-old brainwashed jihadist or the 16 year-old cashier at Chick-fil-A. It’s hard to answer such a generalized question, but I can tell you that whoever suppresses education and diversity probably has a dangerous motive. This is what I think does the most harm.

IMV: So I’m friends with you on Facebook, and you strike me as a thoughtful, outspoken kind of dude on a wide variety of social issues. It seems like the #metoo movement in particular, though, struck a chord with you (and frankly, I’m right there with you). There’s entirely too much toxic masculinity in American culture, and misogyny is unfortunately still alive and well in the metal scene at large. What do you think the first step is towards changing that culture? Where does it need to come from?

JS: Men (and even some women) just need to accept that there is a huge problem. The first step is truly that simple because you’ll encounter an alarming number of people who deny the issue or completely misunderstand it. They need to stop being poised to contradict feminists and just listen to them for a while. I promise that once they do, it’s like putting on the glasses from They Live. You’ll see things everywhere.

IMV: Getting back to talking music, instead of asking the usual influences question (which seems kind of played out to me), I’ve started asking bands this instead: if each member of Black Recluse had to name one album that had the biggest influence on your playing on Send Me to Hell, what would you each say and why?

JS: Converge’s Jane Doe. I remember how my heart sunk the first time I heard that record because I realized just how high the bar had been raised and how much work I had to do. No other album impacted me like that.

Shane: AFI’s Shut Your Mouth and Open Your Eyes. I grew up in a small town and I always wanted to have a band that stuck it to the idiots that perpetuated the farm town stigma. That album was heavy with just the right amount of punk rock to get me interested in hardcore (and a better mindset on my own life). Davey Havok was the most influential stage performer to me. His genuineness on stage as a sad and disconnected person gave me the inspiration to go fuckin nuts and not give a damn if I look silly. It always seemed their performance was for them, and it was a liberation of all the shit life hands ya. I’ve said many times that I would most likely be an asshole if I weren’t able to get my aggravation out on stage.

Kris: Lamb of God’s Ashes of the Wake. It’s brutal and raw, like me, mahfuggah.

Photo credit: Greg the Mayor

IMV: So what are your plans for after Send Me to Hell comes out? I know you have the release show at Black Circle Brewing on January 6. Are you looking to do any regional touring behind it or anything?

JS: We’re not in a position to do more than weekend gigs right now, but we are expanding around the region. I would like to tour eventually. And if people keep inviting us, we’ll do our best to keep showing up.

IMV: Since I’ve seen you reference them a couple of times on Facebook recently, I have to ask – what’s your beef with La Dispute? From a purely musical perspective, I feel like Balance and Composure is far and way the worst band to have come out of that scene. Is it the blatantly capitalistic merch subscription thing they did last year?

JS: Oh lort. I didn’t even hear about that shit. I just heard one of their songs, and it seemed like literally the corniest “hardcore” ever. Anyhow, the beef is honestly just a running joke. I really don’t care, and who knows; They might be nice people.

IMV: Thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. I’ll leave the last word to you – anything else you’d like to add?

JS: Nah, I don’t have anything important to say. I’m just your average intellectual genius who plays instruments perfectly. Also, everyone should come to Black Circle Brewing Co. (21+) on January 6th to see us, Stealing Volume, Steed, and Think Tank. We set this up there because it’s one of our favorite spots, and checking out any of those bands is worth the meager $5.

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