Kaonashi interview: chaotic post-hardcore band discuss their concept album ‘Dear Lemon House…’
The term "concept album" gets tossed around pretty loosely, but it's not everyday that you hear an album as truly conceptual as Kaonashi's Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year, out today on Equal Vision/Unbeaten Records (order yours). It continues the story of the androgynously named character Jamie, who was also the main subject of 2018's Why Did You Do It?, and the lyrics read more like a piece of a literature than like song lyrics. The album opens up with Jamie taking the bus to high school at 6:06 AM, listening to the deathcore band Lorna Shore on their iPod. Someone on the bus rips away Jamie's iPod and beats the shit out of them, as the rest of the kids on the bus watch and laugh. "Ever since that day, I swore I'd make them pay," vocalist Peter Rono (as Jamie) yells in the manic shout-speak style that's become his trademark. "I've got karma to burn. You sowed it, now reap. An eye for an iPod. Sounds fair to me."
From there, Jamie's story unravels. It's full of forgotten locker combinations, a day stuck in the counselor's office, an abusive father, references to Coheed and Cambria and mewithoutYou lyrics, and several other highly specific details, all delivered through a vessel of some the most uniquely chaotic post-hardcore you'll hear all year. It ends with Jamie in the parking lot, with two rifles in a duffle bag. "Every one of you put me in this position and it wouldn't have happened if somebody would have listened," Peter screams, as the music drops out and the album ends. Does Jamie take their own life, or someone else's? It, like much of the album's story, is left up to interpretation.
"Having this one entity to be able to explain a plethora of things was the real goal," drummer Ryan "Pao" Paolilli said of Jamie. "And the idea for it to be this androgynous name, we're really leaving it up for interpretation for the listener. That was the most important part because we wanted to be able to entice people to figure it out."
"[Jamie was created by] just kind of piecing together things from our lives," Peter said. "Not just me and Pao, but everybody in the band and even other friends' lives." "Peter could talk about me or August in the first person," Pao adds, "but I think it makes it easier to talk about this stuff in the grander scheme of things, rather than just about yourself. It just fits and makes more sense when we have this character that we can just pour ourselves into, and portray other aspects of all of our lives, rather than just one solo character from Peter or something like that."
The album uses Jamie's story to touch on mental health, gender, sexuality, race, and other issues, but don't call it a "political" album. "If I had to use one word to describe it, it wouldn't be 'political' or 'social,'" Peter said. "It would be 'personal.'" When asked what he hopes people take away from the songs, he replied, "I would say a different perspective, and the fact that they should listen before speaking. That's the main one. Try to look at things from other people's perspectives, don't just talk over people, listen to what people have to say."
With the lyrical references to bands like Coheed, mewithoutYou, and Lorna Shore, Kaonashi are paying their respects to the post-hardcore bands who helped them get through high school, and they hope their record can do the same for a new generation of teenagers who are forming their own identities and looking for a place to fit in. "We always knew that the music that we were listening to while in middle and high school helped our direction and turn us into who we were, and we realized how important that was," Pao said. "It's kind of just a cathartic thing for us to get our bullshit out, and at the same time, be there without being there, for listeners the way that bands were there for us when we were kids."
Other influences they cite on the new record include Kanye West's The College Dropout, TesseracT's Sonder, A Skylit Drive's Adelphia, Little Brother's The Minstrel Show, the late Chick Corea's legendary jazz fusion band Return to Forever, and the art rock band Polyenso. But, as you may expect from a musically complex post-hardcore band with a literary story that continues from concept album to concept album, the band that really ties all the members of Kaonashi together is Coheed and Cambria.
"The majority of us listened to [Coheed] separately and were influenced by them separately," Peter says. "And then, when we come together to make music, it's like 'oh you're kinda doing that because of the inspiration of Coheed,' you know what I mean? We just got the [inspiration] to be as creative and and as catchy and as heavy and as thought-out as possible, and we all bring that kind of mentality to Kaonashi."
"I think the funniest part is that we're all influenced by totally different versions [of Coheed]," Pao adds. "Like for example, my favorite is Second Stage, Peter's is No World for Tomorrow, and Alex's is In Keeping Secrets, and we're all just like 'nah you're wrong, this is the best record.' So we're influenced by vastly different Coheed albums, and I think that's just like the perfect formula."
Kaonashi are also signed to Equal Vision, who released the first two Coheed albums, and the surreality of it is not lost on them. "When [Equal Vision label manager] Dan [Sandshaw] came up and saw us for the first time, like, he immediately went and started talking to Peter after our set, and I walk up to the table 'cause I think it's just some random dude who's harassing Peter, and Peter's like 'hey, this is Dan, this is the guy who like found Coheed,'" Pao said. "I was like 'give me like two seconds, I'll be right back.' I just had to like, leave and yell and scream, 'cause that shit is crazy [laughs]."
With Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year, Kaonashi do justice to the long lineage of post-hardcore bands that Equal Vision have put out over the years, and they do it by being just as groundbreaking as their forebears. This doesn't sound like a revival of 2000s post-hardcore; it sounds like the future. They consider themselves to be one part emo, one part mathcore, with the dramatic melancholy of the former and the elaborate instrumentation of the latter, and that absolutely comes across in the music. Peter's expressive delivery is like almost no one else in the game, and in addition to his trademark shouting, he also graces Dear Lemon House with soaring, powerful clean vocals. It's the band's most well thought-out release yet, and their most accessible, and it also ups the absolute chaos and fury that Kaonashi won people over with on Why Did You Do It?. It's a reminder that bands can get catchier and more batshit all at once; they don't have to settle for one or the other.
Kaonashi not only follow a rich lineage of post-hardcore bands, they also come at a time when the genre is thriving. 2021 has already seen forward-thinking records from For Your Health, Portrayal of Guilt, SeeYouSpaceCowboy/If I Die First, Hazing Over, Mikau/p.s.you'redead, pulses., and more, with a new Wristmeetrazor LP around the corner and a much-anticipated Callous Daoboys record expected later this year, and if you're into any or all of those records/bands, Dear Lemon House is a must-hear. When we asked Kaonashi who their current favorite bands in this realm are, they picked three that the band members collectively agree on: Omerta, Fever Dreams, and Static Dress.
Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year is out now on Equal Vision/Unbeaten. Stream it below and also watch the video for "An Evening of Moving Pictures With Scooter Corkle," which was directed by Jesse Korman of The Number Twelve Looks Like You. "It was a blast," Pao said of working with Jesse. "He is insanely professional, diligent, brilliant, and creative."
Also, catch Kaonashi on tour with Hail The Sun, Kurt Travis, and Body Thief this fall.