The Callous Daoboys’ mathcore is for everyone: “I don’t want to be this middling heavy band, I wanna be The 1975″
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When I walked into Knitting Factory Brooklyn this past June to see The Callous Daoboys opening up for LIMBS and Greyhaven, they had squeezed eight people onto the venue's relatively small stage -- including two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, a violinist, a saxophonist, and their magnetic lead vocalist Carson Pace -- looking something like mathcore's answer to Broken Social Scene. And when they started playing, they sounded like mathcore's answer to Cursive, with their sinister horns and strings owing as much to The Ugly Organ as their riffs owe to We Are the Romans. At some point in the middle of the set, they started playing DJ Sammy's 2001 Eurodance cover of "Heaven" over the PA, and then Carson -- who was decked out in a Saweetie shirt -- commanded the crowd to "dance!" as he and the other seven members of The Callous Daoboys followed suit. They committed to the bit for a good minute or so, until Matthew Hague their drummer gave a four-count and they segued seamlessly into one of their brutally discordant originals. It was a little bit funny but also entirely serious, like just about everything The Callous Daoboys do, from their artwork to their music to their lyrics to the very name of the band. Knitting Factory was no more than half full during their set, but everyone who was there looked either awestruck, amused, utterly confused, or some mix of all three. It felt like you were watching the start of something special.
"We're fully aware that our music and our sound isn't for everybody, or rather that there's a lot of people who aren't going to seek out bands that sound like us, let alone seek us out," Carson told me over Zoom a few weeks later. "So I think that part of the live show is trying to appeal to everyone on some level, especially with the music clips we put in between songs, or a dance interlude or something like that. [...] The way that we approach live shows is to try to make it as unforgettable as possible, as tight as possible. If we were just playing the album tracks as they are, I think it would come off very weird and rigid."
If you've read anything about The Callous Daoboys, you've probably seen them compared to any number of late '90s / early 2000s mathcore and metalcore bands -- Every Time I Die, Botch, The Chariot, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, etc -- and they do indeed look up to all those bands, but their goals don't start and end with reviving 20-year-old mathcore records. As with their live show, they'd like their albums to reach people outside of niche heavy music too. "I mean, I consider what we do closer to pop music than it is to grindcore or something like that," Carson says. "Like, I'm aiming at pop music, I just happened to take this pretty big left turn" [laughs]. "I don't just want to be this middling heavy band," he adds. "I wanna be The 1975, I wanna be Deftones. So yeah, I think there is a pretty big element of like: we want this music to be for everybody, is it going to be? No, but I want there to be something for everybody." When I bring up how a band like System Of A Down's early 2000s success gives me hope that a weird, heavy band could have a place in the mainstream again, he excitedly piggybacks on the idea. "Yeah, like, it makes zero sense that Korn are as big as they are. They are so goddamn weird. Every time we play Korn in the bus, I'm just like, 'Guys, it's possible, like we can do this [laughs]. We're weird, but it's completely possible.'"
Carson adds that he doesn't mind if people compare them to older metalcore and mathcore bands, but the idea isn't just to re-create the past. "I am trying to do something different, I am trying to do something original. If people don't think it is, then that's fine, I don't care." And whether you call them a "revival" band or not, they're clearly attracting a new generation of fans who never experienced The Chariot or The Dillinger Escape Plan in real time, not just older people looking for a new version of something they already love. "There's been younger and younger people at our shows," Carson says, "like kids that come out to the shows and I'm like, 'I thought we were for 35 year olds!'"
When I asked Carson about some of the specific influences on Celebrity Therapist, their first new album since their independently-released 2019 debut LP Die On Mars stirred up buzz in the heavy music underground three years ago, he actually didn't name a single '90s/2000s metalcore band. Those artists still inform the core of the Daoboys' songwriting, but Carson was quicker to point out the way experimental electronic musicians like Arca and Oneohtrix Point Never influenced these songs, or being inspired by the way their UK-based peers Loathe toe the line between channelling Y2K-era influences and offering up something new and original. He also tosses in mentions of Radiohead and Sigur Rós, or as he half-jokingly puts it: "all the music that people love to cite as influences when they wanna sound smart."
Across the eight songs that make up Celebrity Therapist, you can hear The Callous Daoboys pushing their sound to opposing extremes, refusing to fit neatly into any boxes, and making music that does have something a little closer to universal appeal than you might expect from an underground mathcore band. Their songs change shape at the drop of a hat, and they do so frequently. In opener "Violent Astrology" alone, the Daoboys stuff more ideas, moods, and styles of music into a five-minute song than some bands do on entire albums. The rest of the album follows suit; Celebrity Therapist has more melodic, clean-sung parts than Die On Mars, but it's also even more chaotic and aggressive. It's sarcastic yet sincere, ugly yet beautiful. Some moments are theatrical enough for Broadway and others are sweaty enough for basement shows. Verse-chorus-verse song structure gets thrown out the window completely in favor of songs that start out at point A and then zig-zag around like the Energizer Bunny if you stepped on its tail. Carson sounds like a madman as he moves between singing, screaming, shouting, talking, and more, with added flair from other band members' and guests' voices that vary between sneering, theatrical spoken word and genuinely gorgeous harmonies. His lyrics are just as shapeshifting, with moments that range from campy to poetic, from personal introspection to socio-political commentary. The rest of the band can be found ripping a Kurt Ballou-worthy lick one second and flirting with smooth jazz the next. Sparkling synths accompany deathcore breakdowns. Skronky sax dances in the background. Discordant passages lead into bright, satisfying melodies. Twinkling pianos interrupt grindy, chaotic hardcore. Like their live show, this is an album that's a little bit funny yet entirely serious, off-putting yet welcoming, and definitely unforgettable.
"I wanna be able to make people laugh," Carson says, "but also I want people to tattoo these lyrics on their arm." Listening to Celebrity Therapist, it's a goal that seems entirely possible.
Celebrity Therapist comes out September 2 via MNRK Heavy/Modern Static, and you can pre-order it on bone & olive green swirl vinyl in our store. Catch The Callous Daoboys on tour with Rolo Tomassi and Cryptodira in September, including a Brooklyn show on 9/15 at The Meadows (17 Meadow St). Check out the tour poster with all dates at the bottom of this post.
Read on for more of my chat with Carson, including more details about the writing and making of the new album, the impact of the much-missed Every Time I Die ("we wouldn't be a band without them"), the time Cardi B retweeted Carson's "WAP" joke, new bands Carson recommends, and more...
It's been three years since you last released an album, a time period that's included COVID, record label changes, etc. What changed for the band in that time, with regards to songwriting, overall approach, etc?
So much changed and yet so much didn't. And I know that's like the most pretentious, worst answer I can give you. There was a moment after Die On Mars came out, I think it was the day it came out, I was like, "I have to go write a new song." It was out and it was doing really well for an independent release and we were about to go on a little tour to support it, and there was a moment where I was just like, "Oh I gotta go and write another song, like we don't have a song in our setlist that sounds like this." And that song ended up being "Beautiful Dude Missile," which is the third song on Celebrity Therapist. So I wrote that the day that Die On Mars came out -- and of course it went through a million revisions and stuff like that, you can't write a mathcore song that frantic in a day, it just doesn't happen. But yeah, I started the song that day, and that is the most Die On Mars-y song on the record, but at the same time, when we went to go record Celebrity Therapist in the summer of 2020, we had learned a lot and we had written a bunch of songs that didn't sound like that, so the songs that didn't sound like that rubbed off on that song and now it doesn't sound like a Die On Mars song. There was a lot that we figured out we wanted to do; we knew we wanted to sing more and do more "clean" parts, for lack of a better term. We knew we wanted to have choruses, but we also knew that we were like, "Alright, still fuck traditional song structure, we wanna be really heavy and really weird." We wanted to be ourselves still, but we wanted it to be our songwriting pushed to the extreme. So we kind of decided that we wanted to be a little bit more appealing but a little bit more extreme at the same time, and I think just everyone's attitudes towards the band changed, because it's like, now we can't tour. We played our biggest show we'd ever done with Silent Planet and Greyhaven the day before everything shut down, and there was this like, "Holy shit, our band is something!" And then everything shut down and we were like, "FUCK!" [laughs]. [We were worried that] our growth was gonna be stunted by the fact that we can't go out and grow our fanbase, but I think during lockdown our fanbase did grow quite a bit, from seeing how many people were at our shows post-pandemic compared to before. At the same time, it was a real testament to who had one foot in and one foot out of the band and who was fully in, and we have a different lineup now -- we did discover that there were some people who weren't fully in it.
I think also a lot has changed just with all of us being three years older; we are a very different band in the way that we act and the way that we carry ourselves. I think we're a lot more humble; I think that Die On Mars came out and the fact that it was such a big independent release, we were like, "Oh we're the shit, we're awesome," and I'd say probably up until we started rolling out singles for this record, some of us still thought that. We've just learned a lot, we're less green, we know how touring works a little bit more. We're like, adults now, if that makes any sense. I was 22 when Die On Mars came out, and I'm going to be 25 when Celebrity Therapist comes out; it's a whole different thing now.
I would say from my perspective that your fanbase has grown during lockdown, and I think part of that is this type of music has kind of grown during lockdown. I think not being able to go to shows caused some people to seek out like ambient music and folk singers, but I think others were like, "No if I can't go to shows, I need like really heavy shit."
Absolutely. I'm very glad that we waited until we could tour the record -- which a lot of that was just vinyl delays, I think we were going to be perfectly happy to put it out during a pandemic, just because we wanted it out -- but, we're going to be on tour when it comes out now, which we've never experienced before. It's going to be interesting to feel that sort of push when we're about to play a show, and it's gonna be cool to be on stage and be like, "Hey we put out a record today!" I can't wait for that shit. But yeah I do think that it drove a lot of people to this type of music -- even people like my sister and her friends -- and she's like a 22 year-old sorority girl -- she's like, "Yeah, I'm bringing a bunch of friends to your show because they love the band," and I'm like, "I didn't even know that was possible" [laughs]. I think people have just been stuck in their houses for so long, and sometimes you just wanna hit something.
From a lyrical standpoint, I think the new record has moments that are more political, moments that are more poetic or theatrical or referential, and then parts that seem more personal and introspective. Can you talk about certain themes and ideas that you were hoping to touch on and get across with the record?
A large amount of it is about family and friends and people close to me, and myself, and my band. When the political stuff comes across, it's not me trying to change anything or change anyone really; it's more so just being frustrated, like, "I love this person so much but they believe in this fucking horseshit," you know what I mean? [The American flag line on "Violent Astrology"] is less so me being frustrated with the country, and more me just being like, "All these people that I love would probably kill me for the American flag if I did something to disgrace it, or if I did something that was against their ideology" -- it's not that extreme [laughs], it's also just me being exhausted with politics. I don't really wanna deal with it anymore; there are so many people around me who make it their whole identity to watch Fox News or make it their whole identity to keep up with Huffington Post or CNN or something like that, and I just can't do it anymore. I don't think it's what life is about. I would so much rather love the person that they are apart from that, than have an identity like that attached to me. That's not to say that I don't have political beliefs, but it is to say that I am exhausted by everyone that makes it their whole life. You get a very short time on this earth, and I just don't see why that is what takes up all of someone's time. But if that is what you choose to do with your life, that's great, whatever. So it's largely just frustration with people around me, and frustration with myself, and ultimately I hope that it comes across as loving, and I hope that it comes across as care for these people. Not all of them are right wing -- I think that might be what comes across, especially on a song like "Beautiful Dude Missile" or "Violent Astrology" -- but it's everything [laughs], it's every political identity that I'm just like, "I don't think I can do this anymore." I guess I have some sort of political identity, but I don't let my life depend on that. I don't wake up every morning wondering what Jake Tapper tweeted or what Tucker Carlson said last night about liberals; it's just not something I'm interested in exploring.
I think the difference between this album and Die On Mars is Die On Mars has some lyrics where I'm like, "I have no fucking idea what I'm saying there, that's just a bunch of cool words that I strung together." On this one, every single line means something. And every single line could probably be something that -- whoever that line is about, I'm fully expecting someone to ask me like, "Hey is this line about me?" and I'm gonna have to be like, "Yeah it is, I'm sorry!"
Who would you say were some of the specific influences on the new album?
Oh my gosh, there's so many. There's a lot of experimental electronic stuff that I was binging, like Oneohtrix Point Never and Arca, and experimental rap music and stuff like that. So I think that maybe that just [helped inspire me to think] that music can just be whatever I want it to be. I always knew that it didn't have to follow a specific structure or anything like that, but there's a moment in "Title Track" where it's just like a bunch of random bullshit electronics going on in there, and that's me just being like, "What would Oneohtrix Point Never do in a blank space?" Also, Loathe's album had just come out when we were writing it, and there was a part of me that just wanted to downtune or get an 8-string or whatever -- didn't happen -- but I was just like, we have to do something that no one's ever heard before, while combining all of our influences, which I think the Loathe record did a great job of. People like to compare it to Deftones, but there's more originality in there than there is Deftones ripoff riffs. And in fact, I think there's more Meshuggah in that record than there is Deftones. There's this band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, who I love, and I think they were just kind of naturally seeping into our music a little bit. So I think that was a big influence, and just all the usual ones, and like Radiohead, Sigur Rós -- all the music that people love to cite as influences when they wanna sound smart... and I'm doing the same thing.
I know you guys are also big Every Time I Die fans. That was such a shock when they broke up, I was wondering if you could talk about their impact on The Callous Daoboys.
Yeah of course. I think I saw them for the first time at a Warped Tour in 2012. I didn't even know what I was watching -- I think the only heavy band that I had really delved into was The Number 12 Looks Like You, and I just looked at that as nonsense, I was like, "Oh those are just virtuosos screaming." So I was watching Every Time I Die and kind of puzzled as to what they were; I was like, "Are they a rock & roll band? Are they a metal band? Are they a Southern rock band?" I didn't really get it until I heard "Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space" and I was like, "Oh this shit's nasty. This is like super confusing, I don't know what the fuck this time signature is." And then Maddie, who plays guitar in Daoboys, and I had started this indie pop thing and heavy music just wasn't really a part of my life for a bit. And then I heard Drew Beringer on the AbsolutePunk podcast talking about From Parts Unknown, and I was like, "Maybe I should give that band a shot," and then that record blew my fucking mind. I was like, "This is insane, this is all the things I'd heard from them in every single song, and it's all at 10." I was like, "I fucking love this band," and I think very shortly after that is when we talked about starting Daoboys. And our first practice that we had, with like me, Maddie, and our old guitar player, I was like, "You guys wanna try and learn 'Roman Holiday' by Every Time I Die?" And they were like, "Yeah, sure, fuck it." So it was like one of the first songs that we played as a band. So it's really sad to not have them here, I think they're kind of the blueprint for everything that we're doing. I think my ultimate goal would probably be to have an annual festival like they had, and have a cult following like they had. They built this thing up over 20 years and just consistently released great music. They probably didn't even have to be that consistent and probably would've still had the following that they had. It really is a blueprint that I think every heavy band should have. I think you should shoot for that... but probably aim even higher. But yeah they had a huge impact on us; we wouldn't be a band without them.
Out of every time I saw them, I probably couldn't pick a favorite; they were just immaculate. And probably screaming along to their songs is what made me able to scream. I remember very specifically trying to do "The New Black" in my car in like eleventh grade, and just it sounding like absolute shit. And now I can probably do that song pretty well! And hey, if they need that vocalist spot filled, I'll put out my number right now [laughs]. Although I think it is filled -- I'm very excited to see what everyone does next. And more than anything, I'm hoping that they can work it out. Because I think the whole thing about them is that Every Time I Die is a no-drama band; they're about what they're about, they are working-class metalcore, they were very blue collar about what they do, and then to see it all implode in this much drama, it hurts my heart. So I hope they work it out.
So I wanna talk about the time Cardi B retweeted your "WAP" joke.
Good lord. So, I had been fired from my job that day, and I was just like getting lunch after being fired -- I had to tell my girlfriend at the time like, "Hey, I got fired, I'm really sorry, I'm gonna try to figure this out"... I was working at Guitar Center, it doesn't matter 'cause I don't work there anymore, I can say that I was working there. I hated that job anyway. And I just tweeted that because "Hey There Delilah" was playing in the restaurant I was ordering food at, and "WAP" was a big song at the time, and I don't know, I just thought it was funny. Syllabically, it worked. And then I went to go meet with my best friend Ian, and Cory, our producer -- because we were looking at a studio space for the three of us to share -- and I remember I was like, "Hey this tweet's doing pretty well!" I showed it to them and they were like "that's funny, and you're kinda going viral." So the rest of the day happened and whatever, and I went to bed and got a text at like 3 or 4 in the morning from my girlfriend at the time, and she was like, "She retweeted you not once, but twice," and I was like "...what the FUCK man!" And we were recording guitars for Celebrity Therapist at the time, and I remember I had my phone on my lap, and if I opened up Twitter, the notifications coming in over and over were so bad that it was interfering with the guitar pickup I had. So I had to like put my phone somewhere else. I had a little bit of an existential crisis about it, because like, here we are, using other people's money to record an album that I really give a shit about, but I was like, "Oh man, the amount of people that are seeing this tweet is... so astronomical compared to the amount of people that are gonna hear this record" [laughs]. And it like bummed me out really fucking hard. Cory, our producer, likes to say that he housed the existential crisis that came with that tweet. And he's right! Like I was like, "Oh my god... this is my fifteen minutes!"
It got really weird; I remember I put my Cash App under it because I had been fired and I was trying to figure things out, and I remember so many people just like requesting money from me instead, just being like, "Wasn't funny enough, give me $500." That happened and then people just kept sending me porn in the replies, and I was like, "This sucks! I hate this." At its peak, I almost deleted the tweet. There were people that were recording legitimate acoustic versions of the fucking tweet, and I was like, "I can't do this. This is something I came up with in a sandwich shop, and I've worked so hard on this fucking album, and it's just going to be nothing compared to this tweet." I think it's funny now -- when I was still on dating apps, I would like use it in my bio. I'd be like, "Cardi B retweeted me twice!" And pretty frequently there'd be people that were just like, "Were you the 'WAP' tweet?" and I was just like "FUCK!" [laughs]. So I mean I don't hate it, I still think it's pretty funny. I don't know, I guess if people wanna identify me as the 'Hey There Delilah WAP Tweet Guy' that's fine, I don't care. I wish I could have made money off of it. No one tells you that; no one tells you that you don't make money off of viral tweets. I would've loved to have been paid for that, so if you can get Jack from Twitter on the phone at any point, I have a bone to pick with him. Can't you earn money from Reddit gold? So there should be a system implemented with Twitter; if you like a tweet just give it two cents.
How did the whole "Wild Hogs" thing come about?
Hahaha. It was such a stupid thing that we were just saying. When Hazing Over were still Shin Guard, we did a bunch of shows with them and For Your Health, when Die On Mars came out and they were on tour supporting their split, and Hayden [Rodriguez, of For Your Health] and I just kept saying "wild hogs" for some reason. I don't know what was funny about it; I think we got a group chat together and just named it "Wild Hogs." And now it's kinda done with, because we haven't said it in so long, but I don't know, we just thought it was so stupid, and I guess that was the funniest movie reference we could pull -- a Tim Allen movie from 2007 or whatever. I don't know what we found so funny about it, it was such a dork thing... and we were also making fun of how all those post-hardcore bands were calling themselves The Wave [in the late 2000s/early 2010s]. I remember reading that on Wikipedia and just being like, "That's a fucking dorky thing to do." I love all those bands but that is fucking stupid [laughs]. And I was like, that'd be funny if we had our own little thing that we said instead of "The Wave," and I think that Wild Hogs just became a thing. We still say it between the three of us, but now that Shin Guard's not a band anymore, it's not really the same. They're still making good music, but now it's deathcore, and I think that if you try and start a joke in the deathcore scene, that has to be run by the elders. Like Whitechapel has to approve your joke before you go and make it.
Even though it's not serious, I do feel like it's kind of helped signify that there's a new generation a bit.
Oh yeah, definitely. Like Kaonashi was definitely included in that, and Cryptodira was definitely included in that too. I wanted there to be... I felt like a lot of the younger heavier bands were just being funneled up and forgotten about; I couldn't really remember the last time that like a young, heavy band was popular. I mean of course there are examples. But I think there are a lot of cool, younger, heavy bands coming up, and if I did something to highlight that, awesome. I wasn't trying to [laughs].
On that note, who else should we be listening to right now?
Oh my gosh, there's so many. p.s.you'redead - amazing band. Hitbox -- Hitbox is like this ignorant as fuck chiptune beatdown band with like breakbeats, so sick. Circuit Circuit, that band's amazing. Under the Pier, sick fucking band. Fromjoy, Amnesia Garden, Kurama. I know I'm forgetting somebody, I feel like shit about it... those are the ones that I can come up with right now.
Anything else you'd like to plug or shout out?
Ummm, we're on tour with Rolo Tomassi in September, come hang out. What else... oh! I make music commissions, it's like what I do for a job. So, anybody who wants music for their podcast or for their life or whatever, DM The Callous Daoboys on Twitter!
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