Oh, man, how good is it to know that City Of Ships are back in town with a brand new full-length? It’s been four years since the wondrous “Minor World” and its successor is a trenchant endeavor, bursting with raucous guitars and 90s rock catchiness. “Ultraluminal” will hit the streets next March 20th through Gold Antenna, Translation Loss, Science Of Silence and a following European tour with Junius is scheduled for April – Roadburnincluded; so could there be a better time to know more about what’s going on at City Of Ships‘ HQ?
Eric Jerningan [guitars, vocals] and Eric Soelzer [drums] have the word.
You used to be constantly on the road, day in, day out. Suddenly, after 2012, you stopped. Did you feel anything similar to what we might call a burnout?
Eric Jerningan: It wasn’t a burnout so much as coming to terms with the realities of working on a band spread out in multiple cities. We understand the value of touring and we love the experience of playing live and traveling. It even seems like a reward after the sometimes exhausting level of focus required in the writing and recording processes. However, we’ve had some substantial developments in the last 2.5 years. Chief among these was welcoming our original drummer Eric Soelzer back into the band in 2013. We agreed the best use of our resources was to write the best album we possibly could, so rather than continue touring we spent months working in Austin and NYC until we were satisfied with the new songs. A few real life trials and triumphs unfolded in the meantime, and here we are with a new record, very excited to get back on the road.
Not only you stopped touring, you stopped recording as well. Your new record was expected by many to be out sometime last year, but it actually took more than that. Was there any kind of setback?
EJ: We actually finished mastering the album in the summer of 2014. We took some extra time with the art, which we’re very happy with. There was no setback, but also no particular rush to release the album. We knew we had something special once it was done and believed people would react enthusiastically regardless of when it might be released. This band is not a fulltime job for us, although sometimes the hours in a week we dedicate to it would suggest otherwise. Ultimately we knew that our availability for touring in 2014 was limited, so we agreed on the current release schedule with the labels.
I’ve already listened to “Ultraluminal” and I had to listen to it more than just once. It’s a pretty great record and I cannot say that you’ve changed your essence. Was it kinda tranquilizing to know that you’re sound was still there?
EJ: A few of the tracks from “Ultraluminal” have been around in demo form since just after “Minor World” came out. Each of the new songs is the calculated result of distilling elements we liked from our past efforts. The record is immediately more memorable, but the ways in which we achieved this result are unorthodox. There’s a balance we found which, once identified, we realized is at the essence of so many of our favorite rock albums, from “Houses Of The Holy” to “Superunknown” — using pop songcraft as a template but defying it when necessary, be that through layers of harsh noise, structural reinvention, or whatever.
Do you consider City Of Ships to be a musical entity which, due to its distinctive sound, cannot be shifted into something more experimental and somehow afar from your where you feel comfortable?
Eric Soelzer: I don’t think there’s ever been an adherence to any particular sound. That arises naturally from the Jernigan‘s unusual guitar tunings and their understanding of melody.
EJ: I think we’ve embraced experimental elements since our inception. Compare a heavy, aggressively experimental track like “Bleach Funnel” to the tranquil lull of “Darkness at Noon,” for example. Contrast those with a new track like “Metadata Blues” and it seems a safe statement that we consistently push the boundaries of what we might be known for.
You’ve decided to keep working with Andrew Schneider. As a band, what kind of craft does he bring to the table that enhances your sound?
EJ: Schneider is, for the most part, loyal to old-school production techniques, which for a band like ours works really well. We practice hard and are proud of our live sound. Although he’s known for his work with noise rock kings like Unsane, he has a keen pop sensibility which we’re really happy to have creep into our songs. On the other side, he also loves experimenting with tripped out sounds, which is why we used a Memory Man delay pedal that had lived underwater for a few weeks.
ES: Andrew really challenged me as a drummer, as he is all about capturing the performance. He encouraged whole, complete takes of the songs with nothing less than maximum hitting power throughout. His goal was to do as little digital manipulation of the drum tracks as possible. The result is a real-sounding performance.
How cool was to work at the new Translator Audio space in Coney Island?
EJ: Recording in New York City is both fun and challenging, no doubt about it. Our time in Coney Island, though officially part of NYC, felt more like taking a working holiday in a deserted carnival just an hour subway ride from my apartment. Taking walks on the empty, snow-covered beach between vocal takes was really therapeutic.
It’s fairly inevitable, when listening to you, to think about those good old 90s. What attracts you the most in that specific era? Is City Of Ships a perennial nostalgic exercise?
ES: The whole 90s rock influence is certainly en vogue right now, but that isn’t at all what attracts us to that sound. To me, that was an era when raw musicianship was highly valued, bands were playing loud and leaving it all on the stage. I don’t think City Of Ships ever revels in nostalgia while writing songs, but we can’t help ourselves from injecting those facets of early alternative rock into our music. We all grew up listening to that stuff.
Is there something specific from the 90s that you miss as hell? Anything counts, really, not only music.
ES: There were so many awesome rock bands topping the charts, and they all had killer music videos. Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, etc. You could turn on the radio or TV and be floored by songs like “1979” and “Champagne Supernova”. I miss hearing mainstream rock songs that are that stupefyingly good. Back then, it was larger than life to me.
EJ: Listening to a new album in its entirety and shutting out all distractions; not idly surfing the internet with music in the background. Face to face conversations with friends without being interrupted by the buzzing of a cell phone.
Everyone knows who were the game-changers back then, like Nirvana, Helmet or Deftones. But can you tells us some hidden pearls which you find yourself going back again and again to?
EJ: One of our biggest influences is Hum, an Illinois-based band who released three albums in the mid-90s. Lots of our contemporaries in the US worship them, but in 2010 we found out the hard way (by covering one of their songs!) that most people in Europe were unaware of this incredibly inventive band. Other important bands from that era include Handsome, Swervedriver, and Shudder To Think.
How are you feeling right now knowing that you have a tour schedule to meet very soon?
ES: Excited, as you might assume. But there’s always so much to sort out that has little to do with actually playing music!
EJ: For years we’ve talked with our friends in Junius about sharing a tour together, so we’re stoked this is finally happening. We hang out with those guys constantly so it’ll be a big traveling family. Probably will sleep even less than usual on this run!
Roadburn is such a big occasion for those who play there. A band with your sound is something we seldom see in Tilburg, so how do you see City Of Ships between the likes of Eyehategod, Enslaved, Fields Of The Nephilim or Thou?
ES: It is an honor to play such a revered music festival amongst so many talented and genre-defining bands. We’ve always felt a certain kinship with the artists Roadburn selects, so we’re excited to leave our mark on the festival this year.
Europe usually is a great experience for American bands. What cities do you miss the most over here?
EJ: The Spring 2015 tour will be our fourth visit to Europe. We’ve found each journey to be incredibly rewarding, both in terms of audience response and cultural immersion. There’s almost nowhere in Europe I wouldn’t happily play again, but to avoid listing obvious capital cities, some towns that unexpectedly stood out over the years include Budapest, Zagreb, Bolzano, Ljubljana, and Leipzig.
With what kind of stuff will you load your iPod when it’s time to hit the road?
EJ: No tour is complete without healthy doses of Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, but it’s also nice to zone out on long van rides withBrian Eno.