One Step Closer interview: one of the most exciting new bands in hardcore talks debut LP
Pre-order One Step Closer's new album on white vinyl.
Stream One Step Closer's new single "Chrysanthemum" and read our interview about the making of their upcoming debut album This Place You Know
Wilkes-Barre's One Step Closer became one of the most promising new melodic hardcore bands around off the strength of their 2019 EP on Triple B Records From Me To You and constant live shows (pre-pandemic), and now they've made the jump to Run For Cover Records for their first full-length album, This Place You Know, and it not only makes good on the promise of their early work; it exceeds expectations entirely.
From the title to the album artwork to the story told throughout Ryan Savitski's lyrics, This Place You Know takes on the suburban dread of living in Wilkes-Barre, as Ryan simultaneously looks into the depths of his own psyche and delivers every syllable with an impassioned, tuneful scream. To set the backdrop, his bandmates have created a wall of sound that's rooted in hardcore but unafraid of defying it, working in moments of clean guitars, clean backing vocals, pianos, and a few other non-hardcore flourishes, and it's topped off with big, widescreen production that makes the record land like a punch in the gut. Following in the footsteps of bands like their Wilkes-Barre forebears Title Fight and Baltimore visionaries Turnstile, One Step Closer have figured out how to push the boundaries of hardcore without abandoning the genre or the scene, and they've done it on their own terms. They're not imitating Title Fight; they're redefining hardcore in 2021 the same way that band did 10 years ago with Shed.
Shortly before the album was announced, I caught up with Ryan to discuss what went into making this thrilling debut album. Read on for our chat and stream two singles (including the just-released "Chrysanthemum") below.
Also, catch One Step Closer on tour this year. They've got a West Coast run with Terror, Drain and Dare, and an East Coast run with Comeback Kid, Strike Anywhere, and Be Well (including Asbury Park's House of Independents on 11/5 and Brooklyn's Monarch on 11/6), plus they're opening one of With Honor's reunion shows and more.
We quickly sold out of our splatter vinyl variant of This Place You Know, but you can pick it up on white vinyl now, and we've got copies of From Me To You on coke bottle clear vinyl with alternate white artwork, limited to 700.
One Step Closer have already built up a reputation with the From Me To You 7", the 2020 promo, live shows - but this is your first time making a full-length record and the album's got a bigger sound, new ideas. What was different about the way you approached This Place You Know compared to what you'd done in the past?
I think the main thing with approaching this record is everybody kind of had their own place, and with everyone's different influences intertwining, it put us in this creative bubble and kind of changed our sound a little bit. And because of everyone having the freedom to write pretty much whatever they want, the record just came together easier and felt better, because in the past it's mainly been myself and the drummer writing. Between that -- having everyone's creative input -- and really letting our emotions shine, it made this record come to be what it is.
Was there ever a point where everyone having creative input led to disagreement that was new for the band?
There was honestly not much fighting, surprisingly. I only recall one fight, and it was during recording, and it was just like over how [guitarist] Ross [Thompson] wanted me to approach a vocal part and I didn't want to do it the way that he wanted me to, so there was like a small argument over that. But other than that, I think everyone just kind of respected what each other wanted and was like, "alright, let's just try it out, see what it sounds like, and if it sounds cool let's roll with it."
You mentioned earlier that everybody brought their own influence to the table. Could you talk a little bit about what some of those influences were?
For me at least, a big influence for this record was Title Fight and a lot of older emo stuff like Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral, and The Get Up Kids. When we were first coming together to write this record, those were the bands that were heavily on repeat at the time. And then as I was going through with the process, the blink-182 self-titled record was a huge influence. I really wanted to capture a feeling in the record, and the blink-182 self-titled really captures emotions and a true, like -- you always get a feeling from that, and that's kind of what I wanted to do with this. To name a couple for everybody else, Box Car Racer was another big one for BT [bassist Brian Talipan], Ross was listening to a lot of Title Fight and The Cure, and Tommy's favorite drummer of all time is Travis Barker. So, there were just all these kind of different influences and different things that just came together.
To what extent was the making of the record impacted by the pandemic?
It actually helped the record, I think, because it gave us a little bit more time to finish writing and just get everything together and have a little bit more time to sit on the songs while we were recording. It gave us that extra bit of time to not worry about having to go do a tour or not being gone for too long. I think honestly it was kind of a blessing in disguise for us.
Do you feel like if you didn't have that extra time, that it might've been a different record?
Oh, 100%. Yeah I think the record would've been a little bit more rushed, and probably wouldn't have ended up the way that we were hoping it would. I feel like One Step Closer has this problem with -- with all the others that we've done, we've always either rushed into writing or recording, and there's always a point in time where we're like "okay it needs to be done." So it was nice to have that time where we don't really have to worry about how much time we're spending, we just have to worry about loving the end result and actually being happy with it.
What were some of the themes that you were trying to get across lyrically?
When I was writing the record, I was kind of going off current feelings and current issues that I was dealing with at that time. So it ended up being that even the tracklisting on the record is in chronological order of things that happened to me. At the time I was feeling very disconnected from living at home and being home and not touring and doing the things that I want to do. So it was kind of like a feeling of "I'm not supposed to be here, I should be out doing these things and living my life," but I was also simultaneously dealing with death and things like that. It's almost a story in my eyes, and it's just what people feel during this time of their life, and it's like how I got through it, but also everybody kinda goes through this. It's a coming-of-age kind of thing, almost.
Does that kind of relate to the album title This Place You Know?
Yeah, so the album title is like: everybody has a place where they grew up and a place that they know so well, but there comes a time when it's like, "do I really belong here?" and "Am I gonna be stuck here? Or am I gonna move forward and grow into this person that I want to be?" And I think living in a small town like Wilkes-Barre, which is kind of a depressed area, it's just kind of -- for lack of a better term -- completely depressing. I think, at least for us, because of what we grew up with here is why we have this band, and write about the things that we do, and have all these memories and emotions for this place. It kind of all came together when we were writing the lyrics. It all just fell into place that this record is about this place you know.
And I'm sure what you just described is why there are so many great bands that come from Wilkes-Barre. What kind of impact did growing up in that scene have on the band?
The hardcore scene here is absolutely incredible. I started going to shows when I was like 13 or 14 years old, and it's been all these bands, like Title Fight, Cold World, Bad Seed - any of those bands I think had the same issues that we did, growing up like "hey there's nothing to do, and there's really nowhere to go, let's just write music and have fun." And I feel like, especially in Title Fight, you hear a lot of their upbringing and their growing up in Wilkes-Barre in their lyrics. They make a lot of references to Wilkes-Barre, you know, but just in the writing itself you feel a sadness. I think growing up here and growing up with the hardcore scene here, it's been amazing -- don't get me wrong -- but it has its ups and downs because this is all we kinda have, you know? But either way, even though it's all we have, it's still the best thing to have and the best thing to be a part of, especially when you have really nothing else. So I'm really thankful for it.
So you were previously on Triple B and the full-length is coming out on Run For Cover. How have your experiences with both labels been so far, and also, can you talk about the decision to jump to a label that's a little big bigger and not primarily a hardcore label?
The relationships with both labels have been great. I love Sam [Yarmuth, founder of Triple B Records], I love what he's done for us, he's really helped us out a lot, and I love the Run For Cover dudes. They've all been great so far throughout this process and I'm really excited to keep working with them moving forward.
I think with signing to Run For Cover, we were looking to do a little bit more and promote in certain ways -- like we're still a hardcore band, but I think we wanted to see what we can do with it and how far we can take the band. I think at the point in time that we are, with everyone's ages and where we're at with school and everything right now, this is the perfect time to just tour and see the world, you know? So I think getting the offer from Run For Cover was just kind of like, yeah I think this is what we need to do to move forward and see what happens next. Like this is the next step for the band.
And on a similar note, the music has already evolved so much in just a few short years. What do you see for the future, like how far do you see the music going? Is there a limit?
I just kind of want to do it until either it becomes too much or we're just over it. The music will evolve, it'll change, and it will continue to grow as we grow as people. I think because of that, we can kind of do whatever we want. But we don't know what's going to happen with the band, so yeah in my head right now it's: we do it until we don't want to anymore, you know? And I think that's an important thing to keep in the back of your head, like no one's forcing you to do this thing. So when it starts to become really tiring and weighing down on people in the band, then maybe we shouldn't be doing this anymore.
Yeah, it's gotta stay fun.
Exactly, because if you're not enjoying it, it almost reflects in the music and when you're performing as well.
Did you have any fears about what the reaction from the hardcore community would be, with the record label changing and making an album that pulls some influence from outside of hardcore?
Yeah, definitely. At first, I wasn't really thinking about it too much, because I feel like our sound is a little different, so maybe people would be like "oh that kinda makes sense." But it kinda hit me a week or two ago and I was just like, "oh I'm kinda nervous about how people are going to react to this change." But either way, I think for us, it's the right move going forward and if people do feel negatively about it, that's okay. And we're still gonna play hardcore shows, we're still gonna be a hardcore band. Nothing's gonna change on our end, we just want to see what we can do. That's all.
In normal, non-pandemic times, you guys are usually playing tons of shows with other cool bands. Who are some bands you think people should be listening to, hardcore or otherwise?
Ekulu just put out a really, really cool record. I think everyone should be listening to that. Magnitude is one of my favorite hardcore bands ever, and I think everyone should be listening to that band as well. Turnstile has a new song out that is amazing. And Slow Fire Pistol has a new record out. Those are some of my favorite bands at the moment.
Anything else about the record you'd like to add?
The album artwork: it's supposed to be an overview of our area, looking down from my house. I live on like a big hill on the outside of the valley, and you can pretty much see the entire valley where I live, so the album cover is supposed to be someone looking down from up around where I live, into the valley, and we have a giant river that rolls through the middle of it. So everything about this record in its entirety is just about this place that we know.