Washington, D.C.’s Bound are mystifying. Formed out of mid-Atlantic punk/hardcore bands, the sheer breadth and depth of Bound’s vision is remarkable. On one hand, the quartet–vocalist Bryan Buchanan, bassist Kotu Bajaj, synths/vocalist Trish Harris, and drummer/electronics Dan Richardson comprise Bound–tempt with the euphonious, while on the other they crush with emotional heft. New album, Haunts (jointly released by Jetsam-Flotsam and Diehard Skeleton Records), doesn’t really neatly fit into pre-fab categories. There’s flecks of the 4AD musical aesthetic, whispers of what bands on the Projekt label were doing in the ’90s, glacial drops of unexpected heaviness that were hallmarks of bands at their creative zenith on the Hydra Head label, punctuated by multifarious bulbs of gossamery, ephemeral vulnerability.
Certainly, Bound oddly aren’t, well, confined to any genre, with the exception that their ghostly suggestions emanate from (and belong) to things blue and indrawn. Haunts pivots on those very strengths. From the feathery “The Ward” and the foggy morn of “The Field of Stones” to the thunderous tumult of “The Small Things Forgotten” and the singing (in/external) storms of “The Bellows,” Haunts never once eases its wickedly good grip. The honeyed vocals of Buchanan cast spells melancholy and supernatural, as Harris overlaps and complements with her hungering, dulcet tones. Together, they create the half of Bound’s hooky, caliginous sough. The other is the music, which–with headphones on and lights dimmed–smartly weaves between delicate, forlorn rustles (“The Lines”, “The Known Elsewhere”) and tormented crashes (“The Lot”, “The Divide”). There’s a distinct feeling of October about Haunts, where things are ready to die (or have already died), and this is their belated, noble elegy.
Decibel–caught up in and falling deeply for Haunts–found Bryan Buchanan over a confluence of small worlds and geographical appreciation.
Bound are relatively new to the Decibel faithful. Tell us a little bit about how Bound came together.
Bryan Buchanan: Well, we all came out of punk and hardcore, going down different paths from there. While the music we’re making now isn’t connected to that at all really, it’s nice to have a shared set of values that were forged in that community. With the exception of Kotu, who was in a hardcore band until he moved to DC in early 2017, it had been a long time since any of us had been in bands. I had been working on a solo project since 2014, but it was moving very slowly. Long story short, I was hanging out with the guys, and it seemed like we all needed something. I told them what I had been working on, and we decided to try playing together. I said, “OK, let’s learn ‘In The Air Tonight,’ and we’ll get together and play it this weekend.” [Laughs]. It went pretty well, so I showed them some of the music I had been working on. Trish joined a couple months later.
Was Bound created as a coping mechanism or cathartic vehicle for things that were happening in your life?
Bryan Buchanan: Yeah, that was all part of that initial discussion. For me personally, the reason I had been writing music on my own was that I needed an outlet. It’s a common story–but yeah, that’s what it was. Basically, I needed a vessel to contain some very traumatic issues I had been navigating all at once, almost completely in private, for years–caring for a loved one with cancer, caring for a suicidal loved one with addiction issues, obsessing over relationship failures, processing the death of my grandmother who helped raise me, and on and on. It was both therapy and a distraction. When the band came together, everyone had their own reasons, of course. And we all agreed the band would be this kind of vessel for us. As time went on and we started moving forward together, life naturally changed a bit, and the band became its own reason.
What are the confluence of influences coming into the fold? The spectrum is pretty broad. The dreamy parts (or nightmare parts) are smartly constructed. What are some of the more obvious (and then obscure) influences impacting Bound?
Bryan Buchanan: Thanks for the compliment. This is always kind of a tough one to answer though–because everyone in the band would tell you something different. Plus, we try to stay pretty insulated from other music while we’re writing. That said, and speaking for myself… Ulver has long been a huge inspiration for me–the boundaries they’ve pushed and the breadth of what they’ve done, and done well. Björk is a big one too, for similar reasons. Justin Broadrick’s work is a major touchstone. I could cite some obvious biggies like Sigur Rós and Slowdive. I admire what Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room, and Bell Witch have done.
But if you want to start getting a little farther out–where I’m definitely going to start to lose people, if I haven’t already–I could also say Jim Steinman and Bruce Springsteen. Many people might not know Steinman, but I guarantee they know many of his songs. He writes very big, bombastic, Wagnerian rock music. It’s cheesy and almost completely fantastical in nature, but there’s something pure about it that occasionally borders on profundity. Springsteen is sort of a sincere, very grounded counterpoint to that. Anyone would aspire to his level of lyricism. And specifically, his style of vocal runs and the way he constructs vocal melodies always seem to rub off on me–although of course my tonality is nothing like his and for Bound the vocals aren’t the central focus. But again, that’s me–and only part of me, at that. Others bring something different to the table. Trish would likely cite The Cure and David Bowie as major touchstones for her work. Kotu would likely cite a lot of post-punk. And Dan often brings more of a rock and modern pop sensibility.
I like that the heavier moments are subservient to the other, less heavy moments. They’re more for crescendo or surprise attacks. How do those parts play into Bound’s overall songwriting process on Haunts?
Bryan Buchanan: I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head. This record is all about dynamics–push and pull, letting the delicate parts breathe, digging deep and then going for the big moments. The record certainly gets quite heavy in places, but I think at our core, we’re probably a soft band. I think it’s that softness that gives the heaviness more impact.
One of your Bandcamp fans described Haunts as, “Jesu, but make it soft as a turtleneck lightly choking your neck.” That’s a pretty apt description, but there’s a bit more bounce (less plod) to Bound; more air in surprising places.
Bryan Buchanan: I loved that description and thought it was hilarious. Shoutout to Lars Gotrich for that one. It’s an adaptation of a great Reductress headline. All of us love Jesu–but yes, I definitely agree with you. There’s certainly a place in our music for those hypnotic Jesu-esque motifs, but this record is a lot more baroque and bombastic. You know, while we’re on the subject of Jesu, here’s a fun fact: Kotu gets bad migraines, and he’s always said that one of his most effective coping mechanisms is laying in a bath with his ears underwater while blasting Conqueror. I can’t vouch for it myself, but that method sounds better than meds to me!
So, Haunts is your second album, and it’s out now digitally and on LP. What are the things that make it different? I hear a direction towards more traditional songwriting, while still keeping and moving forward with the dreamy/psychedelic bits.
Bryan Buchanan: Different from our first album [No Beyond]? Quite a lot, I think. Overall, No Beyond was meant to be like a lullaby and feel like it was sort of emerging from a mist. And to emphasize that effect, we recorded everything “wet.” All those dense reverbs and modulations on that record? Almost none of that was done in post, as is now typical; rather, it was all “printed” and the recording itself was layered up that way–no possibility to change anything later. Moreover, the vocals were recorded with an SM57, despite the fact that the delivery was soft–to reduce detail. Then everything was mixed to sound smooth. One description it got, which I think is apt, is “a complex fog of slow-breath mood.” Plus, that album was the culmination of years of working on different pieces that were later assembled.
Haunts, on the other hand, was all planned from the start. And it was more of a collaborative effort with all the band members. The concept was laid out; the theme and melody at the heart of the album (in “The Last Time We Were All Together”) were sketched out; the first and last songs were then written to bookend everything, and the rest of the album was filled in around those pillars. Musically, Haunts is much more forward and muscular. The bass and synth take a much more prominent role, the drums are bigger, there are more orchestral elements, and so on. Stealing a friend’s description: If No Beyond seemed to emerge from a mist, Haunts seems to rise from the ground. It’s more embodied. It’s also grander, darker, and odder.
In terms of the songwriting direction, I think it’s interesting it struck you as more traditional. There’s one song–“The Divide”–that we gave the structure of a traditional pop song, but it’s also arguably the most bizarre-sounding song on the album. I think what you may be getting at though is that there’s a certain accessibility? I’d agree with that, I guess. I think music that’s “emotional” probably has to be at least somewhat accessible for it to work, even if it’s pushing boundaries.
The vocal melodies are also more sophisticated as well. What do you think you attribute that to other than natural growth as a singer?
Bryan Buchanan: I appreciate that. It’s a few different things. First, piggy-backing on what we were just talking about, this is all part and parcel of the theme and intention of this record. No Beyond was all shrouded in a haze. Haunts kind of steps out of those shadows to demand your attention. Second, speaking of stepping up, Trish really stepped up to the plate on this record. Whereas she only did a small handful of background vocals on the last one, on Haunts she and I sing about half of all the lines together, and she takes the lead in some places. Third, to make this record feel appropriately grand, both Trish and I layered up more harmonies–and I was doing a lot more falsetto–to provide a ghostly, choral quality.
There’s a lot of interesting aspects to Haunts. The songs feel connected metaphorically. What is the unseen or unheard glue between the songs? Vocal or guitar patterns, things hard to hear the first few times in.
Bryan Buchanan: Both musically and lyrically, the album is a sustained exploration of place. Specifically, it’s inspired by emotionally significant places in our lives–places where formative life events occurred–and it examines the pull that those places still exert over us. The lyrics call forward and backward to each other throughout the album. And the whole thing is peppered with the sounds of objects taken directly from those places. Some were recorded on-location, and some were gathered and brought into the studio. Some became obvious musical elements, and some were tucked deeper into the mix. To give just one example, the resonant dinging sounds you hear in the final movement of “The Small Things Forgotten” aren’t chimes; they’re me striking various pieces of depression glass from my mother’s house. The record is chock full of things like that. In addition to these things being sentimental for us, the idea is to give this somewhat otherworldly-sounding album a can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it kind of realism.
The other thing is: With the exception of a few sparse, lonely passages, the album is very densely arranged. By design, there are almost always multiple interweaving and competing melodies. Hopefully without sounding too campy: It’s like life and like memory, right? So what your ear focuses on during one listen may not be the same the next time you listen. But anyway… Because of its density, I think the album is best listened to on headphones, in a quiet place. That’s the intended experience. All the depth and movement that’s occurring across the stereo field is very important to us. A lot of credit is due to engineers Kris Hilbert and Will Benoit for a ton of work in capturing everything and bringing it to life.
There’s literal connections as well. I like how the songs roll into one another, in some cases seamlessly (“The Bellows” into “The Ward”), while in others there’s distinct separation (“The Field of Stones” into “The Last Time We Were All Together”). That appears by design.
Bryan Buchanan: Absolutely. The album is a series of vignettes in one unbroken, circular composition. There are two moments of rest. One is at the middle of the album–between “The Field of Stones” and “The Last Time We Were All Together,” as you noted–which is where you’d flip the record over. The other is right before the last track. Otherwise, they all roll right into each other. It’s also thematically important that the songs never musically resolve. And the last song on the album ends with the same arpeggio and the same sounds of bells that began the first song; it’s in a different key there, but the intervals are the same and it winds up on the same note. So if you happened to be listening to the album on repeat, things would seem to never stop.
Tell us about some of the lyrical things you’re exploring on Haunts.
Bryan Buchanan: Well, first I’ll say that with the exception of a small handful of central lines that guided the development of the record, the lyrics came last. For the most part, the instrumental parts were written first to capture the feeling of certain places. Then, the appropriate vocal melodies were established for each part. And finally, lyrics were created to conform to those established melodies. The lyrics were written after lengthy discussions among all the band members about what exactly we wanted to express within the context of this record. As I mentioned earlier, the whole thing is about the places that made us or changed us–or changed on us–and how those places are always with us and never stop drawing us back. So in broad strokes, we’re talking about things like loss of innocence, running away, liminality, family ties, sacred objects, abuse, death, and so on. Because I’m the one who actually writes the lyrics, I can’t help but do so based on my own experiences, so the imagery of nearly every line on this album is very much tied to specific things that have happened to me. That said, I can say that the jump-off for “The Bellows” was something in Trish’s life; “The Lines” came from conversations with Dan; “The Known Elsewhere” encapsulates a place central for Kotu–and so on. If you want something specific, I could offer an example that “The Lot” centers around something in my parents’ tumultuous divorce. But see that’s the thing: I worry that people focus too much on biographies and personalities, and then they start to project ideas about you into the music– the same way they do with any stated influences, by the way–instead of focusing on what they themselves get out of it. That’s all natural to do, of course. But I like to minimize it if possible without seeming too cagey. I also think there’s no poetry in being too specific. Strategic use of line breaks helps avoid that, for example; making it unclear whether a particular line is associated with the line above it or the line below it, or whether it stands alone. My hope is that the lyrics are written in such a way that they don’t preclude others from seeing themselves, from seeing their own stories. And with the way that we present the vocals on the album, they’re very frequently just one of the competing sonic elements swirling in the mix.
I totally hear that. What about the album’s cover art? It’s very intriguing. Feels watery/aqueous. Was water or associations to water the idea?
Bryan Buchanan: Thanks, man. That’s all Trish! We’re fortunate to have a designer and visual artist in the band. To answer your question though: No, not really. But like the lyrics, the cover is purposely impressionistic. And you’re not the first person to say it feels watery. Here’s what’s going on: The cover of our first album featured Trish’s drawing of a desiccated resurrection fern–well, actually two of them in a sort of embrace. If you’re not familiar, it’s a fern that grows all over the southeast, and it’s notable for being able to dry out almost completely, appear brown and dead for long periods of time, and revive once it receives water again. Notably, they grow on trees all over Trish’s family’s farm. For us, it’s a symbol of dormancy and potential, endurance and survival–no religious connotation despite its name, by the way. It’s become a de facto band mascot. So it was important for us to carry it over to the new album. If you look closely at the cover, you’ll see the fern as ghostly outlines in the tangled, rising wisps of mist or smoke moving through a hazy, wooded area. The fern also appears in other places in the LP art.
OK, how can the Decibel faithful engage with Bound? You have a wide social media presence.
Bryan Buchanan: We love our Bandcamp community and send regular updates to our followers, so definitely find us there [https://boundlives.bandcamp.com]. If you’re not a Bandcamp person, you can find Haunts on your preferred platform [http://smarturl.it/bound_haunts]. On Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, we’re @boundlives. There’s also our website [https://boundlives.com], where you can find our email address. Feel free to send us a message on any of those platforms. We love hearing from people. Thanks for such thoughtful questions, Chris. Really appreciate it.
** Bound’s new album, Haunts, is out now on Jetsam-Flotsam and Diehard Skeleton Records. Digital and LP are available via the band’s Bandcamp site (HERE). Don’t sleep on the “Blue Clouds” colored vinyl…
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