After a brief hiatus, Chicago-based Suicide Note has emerged with a distinguished sound and a brand new full-length album. Scene Point Blank spoke at length with drummer Jason Cagovski about their latest long-player as well as other projects he's currently involved with.
Scene Point Blank: Greetings fine sir, could you tell us your name and position in Suicide Note?
Jason Gagovski: Jason Gagovski ? drummer.
Scene Point Blank: Let's start with the current. Suicide Note experienced a two-year hiatus and four years between releases. Was there are particular reason for this break?
Jason Gagovski: I would not really call it a hiatus. The band operates when it can, and sometimes other things in our life take up more time. There were times in between "Too Sick to Dance" and "Empty Rooms" where the band was active, playing shows around what we consider our home base near Chicago and Indianapolis. We also did some recording in between records for our split with Lords. We always try to do some selective live dates whenever possible, at least a few a year. But you are right in the sense that the band hadn't been this active since the release of "Too Sick to Dance." I would say, in a lot of ways, that we've been more active with the release of "Empty Rooms," we've already done the Eastcoast and Midwest in support of the record with our pals Lords, and are doing some shows with Young Widows and Pelican this Fall. We are in a situation where our members are spread out across the country, and it's been that way since the band began in 1999. We've always been geographically challenged, but we all grew up together and have a burning desire to create music together and spend time together. Jason Golday and I have been playing music together since 1992, and I'm sure we always will whenever possible. There is just something that clicks between all of us when we are in a room writing music together - ideas start to flow, and songs start to take shape in a very organic way. We like our songs to be sort of a documentation of our feelings at a given time - to capture a certain time via our songs. So we try and write and arrange our music in a spontaneous way, without worrying too much about perfecting things. We usually have a limited amount of time together, so we have to make the best of it and trust our gut feelings about the songs. That's how it has worked for the last two records.
Scene Point Blank: What lead the band to get back into action again?
Jason Gagovski: The real impetus to set a recording date for the new record was Kurt. While Converge and Mastodon were touring together, the band stayed over at my house and Kurt said, "Lets do another Suicide Note record and record it here, at your house!" I had purchased a house in 2006 and it has hardwood floors and some open spaces that he felt would be good to capture a record in. We had already been talking about getting in gear for a new record. So it totally made sense because it created a low stress environment for us to write and record. Then we sort of coordinated things with our friends Young Widows so they could have some time to record with him at my house as well in preparation for their live recordings on their way out to Godcity in Salem, where Kurt would finish their record and mix ours.
Scene Point Blank: After the break, did you have any kind of reservations about writing music and playing out again? Was it the band's intention to record a new album right off the bat?
Jason Gagovski: It was our plan to make another record for sure, and we didn't have any reservations about playing live. Since we had already played a few shows earlier in the year and had been a bit active, it was pretty easy. Plus when we are not playing in Suicide Note, Jason Golday and I are playing in other bands at all times. I play drums in Sweet Cobra, Stabbed By Words, and with Golday on some of his solo material. He plays in a few bands from L.A. called Mad Gregs, and Forget Me Nauts - as well some jazz with other musicians, and some composing stuff. He also teaches guitar. So we're pretty much always playing music.
Scene Point Blank: After fulfilling your contract and releasing two full-lengths for Ferret, the band chose to release the album, to an extent, on its own through your Hawthorne Street Records label? What led to this decision as opposed to seeking out a new label?
Jason Gagovski: We didn't really want to go through the whole process of making the record and trying to "shop it around." We thought about talking to some of our friends at other labels about working with us. But then we just became really focused on the music and the logistics of getting it recorded, booking shows, and making it happen. It just seemed like the natural thing to do. I had talked to my partner at the label, John Kemler, and he was very into the idea of doing the record. The band has always been about friendships, and working with people we like and are comfortable with. So this time around we felt like it had to come out on Hawthorne Street.
Scene Point Blank: The band recorded the album with Kurt Ballou. What was it like working with him this time around as opposed to the band's previous efforts? Was there a reason you chose to work with him yet again as opposed to someone else?
Jason Gagovski: Well, he had the challenge of taking a space that was not set up for recording, and set it up. Obviously we had always gone out to the Boston area to his various incarnations of Godcity, and some surrounding studios, to make our records. But this time it was his idea to track the album at my house. He thought the high ceilings, hardwood floors, and openness to the floor plan would create a good sounding record. So he loaded up his car with a bunch of recording gear and drove out. I had to buy a few things for the studio end of things to make it work, but overall it was not a big challenge to get the studio up and running. I think somewhere during or after the recording of "You're Not Looking So Good" we started to feel like Kurt was sort of a part of the band - we have known him for a long time and consider him a good friend. He's always played a bit on all four of our recordings with him, and collaborated with us in the writing process, and he really captures the essence of the band. It's sort of like a weird family reunion when we all get together to make a record. He also really knows how to get the best performance out of us. He's definitely my favorite engineer to work with.
Scene Point Blank: In addition to his production duties, Kurt also added some instrumentation to the album. What can you tell us about that?
Jason Gagovski: That's sort of a tradition at this point. He's played on all of our records. The only releases he did not record or play on are the demo, the split with Breather Resist, and the unreleased stuff that we recorded for the Lords split. But as far as our actual records, he's always captured them and played a little on them as well. For "Empty Rooms" it started because he wrote the bass line on "Black Snow" and we then wrote a song around it at two in the morning. We had recorded all day and were totally fried, but Kurt was very excited about a bass riff he had come up with. We were ready to call it a day and he wanted to work on a new song. So we went to the rehearsal room in the basement and bashed out another song. I knew that we would probably forget the whole song the next day, so I had the foresight to set up a video camera and film us writing and arranging the whole song. I'm glad I did because we had to refer to it the next day to remember it. That song was rehearsed three times before recording it, so it's still very fresh on the recording. Then he added some additional guitar over his bass parts.
Scene Point Blank: While linked closely to hardcore due to past endeavors the music of Suicide Note lately seems to lean towards the musical styles of indie and post-punk of Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi and more modern acts such as Harkonen and These Arms are Snakes. What bands do you draw inspiration from?
Jason Gagovski: We've been influenced by Fugazi since we were kids, I think that their influence on us has always been there, even in our "heavier" days. I would say Dischord Records, in general, had a big influence on us. That whole approach really set the foundation for things in our minds, and how we wanted things to be in our world. Drive Like Jehu is a band we discovered later on, and Golday and I were blown away the first time we heard it. We liked their previous band Pitchfork, but didn't realize the connection until later. I mean, there are so many bands I could mention that have influenced us, Sonic Youth is a big one, Neurosis, Misfits, Bad Brains, Black Flag, and Minor Threat were early ones that had a huge impact on us. Then later on some mid-90's hardcore like Unbroken, Swing Kids, Rorschach, Lincoln, and Deadguy. But we were always opened minded to anything that fell under the umbrella of punk rock in our minds, so we listened to a lot of other stuff too like Slint, Naked Raygun, Swiz, early Helmet, Karp, Crawlpappy, Failure, Quicksand. I could go on forever. To be mentioned alongside any of those bands above is an honor.
Scene Point Blank: Suicide Note is approaching ten years as a band, what kind of changes have you notice within the band's sound? What kind of chances have you noticed within the underground music scene - particularly hardcore and punk - over the course of the band's existence?
Jason Gagovski: I think the band has definitely progressed as time has gone on, as bands should. There are more dynamics in our sound, and we've grown a lot as musicians and as people. And like I said earlier, we like our records to be spontaneous, and capture a certain feeling in time for us. I know some people may think that we've veered off our original path, but I don't think that's true. We've always approached writing our music the same way. It's just what comes out of us that sounds different. But the important thing to us is that you can always tell it is Suicide Note. I'm really proud of the way our music has progressed, but at the same time maintains the integrity of the band's sound. We are planning a ten-year anniversary show for Spring of 2009, and maybe some kind of special release.
For the second part of the question, unfortunately hardcore and punk have become very commercialized and exploited in a lot of ways. It's kind of sad to see that, but I guess it's been happening since the beginning with major label involvement with even early bands like Sex Pistols and The Ramones. It's just weird to me to see it come and go in waves. It seems to me like the whole communal aspect of it that was so important to us has been stripped away, like building friendships and networks with people in other scenes, in other areas. That was the cool thing about traveling and going to out of town shows years ago - seeing familiar faces and having a great time hanging out with them. It's seems like younger kids treat it as simply a fashion statement and are missing out on the most important aspects of it. Maybe that makes me sound old. But on the flipside there are definitely still bands and labels around that carry on the idea of a communal underground scene that still have ethics, and are community minded. It's good to see people still carrying on that tradition even though it's not as much a part of it as it once was.
Scene Point Blank: As a drummer, do you have a particular intention with the sound you wish to create on the recordings? In other words, is there a particular album (or albums) that you compare your work to and say, "That's how I want it to sound"? Also, what inspired you to pick up the sticks?
Jason Gagovski: I was inspired by my older brother to pick up the sticks and start playing. My parents had bought him a guitar, so it only made sense for me to start begging for a drum set so we could jam together. My dad bought me a used kit that I still use today; it's a late 1950's silver sparkle Ludwig set. I was very inspired by John Bonham as a kid. I saw the videotape of "Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same" and wanted to be able to play like that. More current recordings I have heard that I love as far as drums sounds would be Queens Of The Stone Age "Songs For The Deaf" and Failure "Fantastic Planet." The drum sounds on both of those albums are amazing. I also love Dave Lombardo of Slayer. The drums on any Neurosis recording are also some of the best; they are just captured perfectly for the mood and sound of the band. I aspire to have the drums in any of my bands fit in to the mix that way.
Scene Point Blank: Suicide Note is scheduled to play at The Fest 7. What other bands are you guys playing with? What bands are you most looking forward to seeing at this year's event?
Jason Gagovski: We are playing the same day as Coalesce, Young Widows, Cutman, and tons more. I would say those are the three bands I'm also most excited about seeing even though I've seen them a ton of times. There are a lot of bands playing. It's going to be intense.
Scene Point Blank: Does Suicide Note have any other touring plans for the remainder of 2008 and into 2009?
Jason Gagovski: In November we are doing five dates with Young Widows, and a few with Pelican. After that we are going to finish writing our collaboration with Pelican and get it recorded. Each band has members in Chicago and L.A., so we've split up into two camps with members of each band and we're each going to record, and put vocals on some of it. Jason Golday, Larry and Brian Herweg are the L.A. line-up, and Trevor, Laurent, and I are the Chicago line-up. Our singer Casey will come in and put vocals where it makes sense. It should be interesting.
Scene Point Blank: In addition to your duties with Suicide Note you also perform with Sweet Cobra. How difficult is it to juggle two bands? Does either one of them take precedent over the other?
Jason Gagovski: It's not too difficult because Suicide Note and Stabbed By Words only operate at certain times. It can get hectic when there is overlap, but I generally try and avoid that. Everyone in Sweet Cobra lives in the Chicago area so we can do that whenever we want. We have a regular rehearsal schedule since we all live near each other, and we play shows regularly. So when Suicide Note gets in gear to do stuff it's assumed that I'll be away from my other projects. It usually works out just fine, and it keeps me busy.
Scene Point Blank: What's the status of Stabbed By Words? There was a one-off show earlier this year, any chances for more shows in the future?
Jason Gagovski: We are actually working on a new album at the moment. We are still in the writing phase, but are about halfway done. We'll probably do some more shows in early 2009 and this summer as well. Unbroken is going to be playing two shows this Spring, so I know Dave will be busy with that. I'm very excited to see them again.
Scene Point Blank: Turning to the label that you co-operate, what's the toughest thing about running a day-to-day operation?
Jason Gagovski: There's always something to be working on when you run a label. General things like keeping up with emails, and getting distribution. Our online store goes through the fine folks at Blue Collar Distro, so that has given me time to focus on other aspects of the label. The hardest thing for sure is distribution - getting our releases in stores.
Scene Point Blank: Have you run into any difficulties with the whole downloading craze in conjunction with any of your releases? What is your reaction to seeing an album you put so much work into available for free and dispersed around the Internet?
Jason Gagovski: Yes, we have run into that. It has hurt the amount of money coming back in. It can be a challenge just to recoup on a release, let alone make any profit. So it can be disheartening to get on the Internet and see your hard work available for free. But we're not in this for money - John and I have a passion for releasing good music and love doing so. The money end of it just makes it harder to do. I understand that people are going to download releases for free, that's just a reality in the music world at this point. I know that everyone is guilty of it to an extent. I mean, do you know anyone that doesn't get some amount of the music in his or her iTunes library for free? Probably not. It really sucks when something leaks online before the release date. That can really kill sales. We were selling copies of our new album on tour, before the release date, and after about the third show we got a call from our buddy to inform us that it was already up for download. The cool thing is it has sort of caused vinyl to make somewhat of a comeback. People that do care about supporting artists are buying vinyl. And I think that's a great side effect of the whole downloading thing. With "Empty Rooms" we made it available as a 12" that comes with a CD version of the album, so you get both formats.
Scene Point Blank: To date the label has released some pretty impressive records - Stabbed By Words, Playing Enemy, Deadguy, Sweet Cobra - which record are you most proud of?
Jason Gagovski: I love all of our releases! If I had to pick one, it would probably be Deadguy, not only because they are one of my favorite bands, but because that release is the reason John and I started the label. After striking up a friendship with Dave from Deadguy, he asked us if we were into releasing "I Know Your Tragedy." John and I used that as a springboard to start releasing music. Working with your friends and putting out a record is a great feeling? so in that sense I love everything we've released.
Scene Point Blank: What's up next for the label? Any new signings or future releases you can tell us about?
Jason Gagovski: We have a lot going on. We just got in the Dead Child EP on vinyl, and The Life And Times "The Magician" on 12" as well. It's an honor to work with both of those bands. They are amazing individuals and musicians, and we're big fans of their work, both past and present. Coming up we have the debut full-length from Medusa (which is three of the guys from Racebannon), a new Brain Banger EP (which is Nick and Jeremy of Young Widows), and we'll be releasing the new Lords on vinyl.
Scene Point Blank: Do you have any parting thoughts?
Jason Gagovski: Thanks for the interview and great questions.