Interview: Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré

Touche Amore

After the emotional toll 2016’s Stage Four took out of Jeremy Bolm, Lament feels like the Touché Amoré vocalist finally coming up from under the weight of that record for some much needed air. “Stage Four was a mandatory record for my well-being,” explains Bolm. “I wasn’t as focused on doing everything perfect as I was doing it to feel better.” Lament is the band putting in the best work of their decade-plus career – if there’s been one constant about Touché Amoré, it’s that the Los Angeles-based band has always given a shit. From the art direction to the visuals to the actual music, nothing about this band is ever half-assed, so it makes total sense why the quintet would seek out “The Godfather of Nu-Metal” Ross Robinson (a man who’s had his hands on little-known records like Korn’s self-titled album, Iowa, Relationship of Command, Worship & Tribute – just to name a few of the records that completely changed aggressive music) to produce the band’s fifth album. Robinson pushed Touché to their absolute best, resulting in some of the most challenging yet rewarding, genre-pushing music of 2020. “I can comfortably say I’m proud of this album more than any other in our discography,” says Bolm. Below, we discussed working with Robinson, how the Andy Hull collaboration came about, and the genesis behind the best Touché Amoré songs ever.

One of my high school friends was trying to get rid of a bunch of her old CDs and posted it on Instagram. I was like, “I’ll take all of them.” It was full of like ‘90’s alt and nu-metal in there and I was looking through it and yeah Touché Amoré now has a lot in common with $3 Bill Y’allIowa, and Korn’s first album. So working with a legend like Ross Robinson had to have been so different since (Is Survived By and Stage Four producer) Brad (Wood) has basically been like the sixth member.

Ross Robinson has been a figure in my life since I discovered aggressive music, you know? My timeline for music is basically like Kurt Cobain died in ‘94 and my heart was ripped out of my chest at 11 years old. And then that next year I saw the “Blind” music video on a local music video channel. And my fucking brain fell out of my head and I went to the Wherehouse Music, which was the whatever street and I bought and I bought their first album on cassette. I was friendly at that age already with the staff who worked there and they would sell me parental advisory albums. 

So I bought the cassette and you know, I was obsessed so early with that band and with being a rabid music fan, even at a young age, I remember getting the VHS called Who’s In Now and in that VHS Ross Robinson speaks in it and has a really intense interview where he’s talking about how getting that emotional reaction is the closest thing to God for him. And I remember that just like being like this really intense thing. And then, yeah, I remember getting $3 Bill Y’all from this kid and then Roots from Sepultura, eventually the Slipknot records. I was following the path and following the folklore of this guy.  

And then eventually he did the that first Glassjaw record. So I was working at a street team company and they got an advanced copy of Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence and I fucking wore it out. I was so obsessed with it and knowing that Ross Robinson was behind it – I was so in. And then he did the At The Drive-In record, the Blood Brothers record and Worship & Tribute – I was there for all of that up until he did that mid-2000 self-titled Cure album, which I absolutely loved. So like having him be present in my life from 94 to 2005 – I was obsessed. I was there for all of it. 

When we got our manager almost 10 years ago at this point now, he originally managed At The Drive-In, from the start to when they originally broke up, so that was one of the selling points of working with him. And when we started talking about what we going to do for this album, we’ve thrown out producers and this, that, and the other thing. We love Brad Wood and I would take a bullet for Brad, but we knew that we needed someone to shake things up as a lot of bands do. And sometimes it’s to the detriment of the band when that happens but we were willing to sort of like take that risk. At album five you’re welcomed to either make your worst record or your best record. So we were like, let’s try something different. 

We met with a few different producers to sort of get some ideas. And we checked in with a few different producers to see if they were available. And when our manager suggested Ross, I was terrified. I knew in my heart of hearts, I knew it was the right move for the kind of band that we are. And the quote unquote emotional attachment the people who listen to our band have for the band, like the emotion is there. And I know that’s what Ross craves the most. I was like “let’s give it a shot.” And that’s when we did “Deflector” with him. And it was a really intense experience. I walked away from that experience, wondering if Ross would still want to work with us because he and I had a bit of a contentious relationship when I was doing vocals but we were so proud of how that came out. He added so much to that song and he took it in a lot of places that we didn’t expect. We’re so blown away by his endless supply of ideas. It’s like shocking how there’s never not an idea that it’s coming out of that guy’s head.

It was like months later and we were on tour. We played at San Diego and Justin Pearson from The Locust also plays in Dead Cross. He came out to the show to say hi and Dead Cross just gone back to the studio. And, and he was like, “dude, Ross loves you” and I was like “What?” He was like, “he fucking loves you and respects the shit out of you,” like, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, “Oh my God, I was afraid that he wasn’t feeling that at all.” So then we were like, we gotta do it. We gotta do this record with him. And then once we went back in with him, it was awesome. Like there was no more anxiety or nervousness about our working relationship. I think that just “Deflector” was a great way for us to sort of like shake out cobwebs, get to know each other, learn each other’s moves and sort of find the mutual respect for how each one of us approach being in studio together. It was my favorite recording experience yet. 

I remember reading an article about people respecting the nu-metal genre a bit more in 2020, and Ross was interviewed in it and spoke about how he pushed Jonathan Davis during the recording of “Daddy” to the point where he’s literally sobbing. And you’ve mentioned how intense this recording process was.

It’s funny when it was suggested, I was like, “Ross is known for two things, getting a drummer replaced or kicked out and making the singer cry.” So Elliot was like, “Yeah, he might choke me to death, but you know, fuck it. Let’s do it.” I learned really quickly that the things he’s known for and the things that he’s pushing for is – as weird as it sounds – all truly coming from a place of love and excitement and just wanting the most real possible recording that you can possibly get from somebody, which I understand isn’t appealing to most. And certainly did not seem appealing to me when I … if you would’ve told me what the process for recording was a year before, I would have been potentially apprehensive completely, but I’m so thankful to have gone through it. I know that at no point was anything done for like theatrics, which is how – if you’re being dismissive as I was originally with “Deflector” – it can come off sometimes.  

You can feel that way toward sit, like “Oh, he’s doing this for a reaction. He doesn’t actually care,” but you would be so wrong because he does genuinely come from a place of wanting the best out of his artists. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, you know? When you work with him, he makes the singer of the band read the lyrics to everybody in the band before you start recording and go line by line and explain what every single line is about. And then he’ll ask a member of the band how a certain line might make them feel or what that makes them think about or whatever in a very therapy sort of way. And in my head, I was always like the guys in my band all just trust each other. Like they’ve never questioned what I’ve written or anything like that. It’s just like that mutual, unspoken respect that everybody has for one another. So part of me was like, “Man, my guys aren’t going to give a shit about this,” but they were like super invested and they were super in it and everybody was very involved and gave great feedback.

And once the song would be discussed at length he would then have everybody playing to get just the drum tracks. He would have me sing, for example, every single time just to get the drum tracks. And for those who are reading this interview that are advanced, you know, that’s crazy. Like normally it’s usually just a scratch guitar getting the drums, but having everybody played full on, you know, hyping everybody up, getting everybody to get the wildest performance out of everybody just for the drums was crazy. Ross told me later that he even pulled certain vocals out of those scratch tracks to be on the record. Cause he was like, “dude, they were so real” – things like that. So like he’s not sparing a single thing that’s being recorded because he’s just digging for like the wildest reactions. When we recorded “A Forecast,” to get the most intense version out of me for that song, he had every member of the band stand in the vocal booth with me to sing the whole outro of that song, which was very intense. And for those who hear the song, you’ll understand why.

I love that song. Every time it’s raises the hair on my arms and gives me chills. I’ve always appreciated how every Touché record evolves dynamically and stylistically. And I especially love the opener “Come Heroine.” Justice Tripp (Trapped Under Ice, Angel Du$t) shows up and screams a little with you and that moment makes me miss live music the most because that part is such like a cathartic moment to open a show. I’m sure it’s daunting to release a new record without the ability to tour on it. 

It goes without saying that it was a conversation. The record’s been done since the spring so we had a lot of lead time to sort of make those decisions, but then at the same time though with that lead time the label needs to know what we’re going to do. And Epitaph has been so gracious with us about the whole process where they were willing to let us push it if that was the decision. And there were some other albums on Epitaph that would have been coming out around the same time as ours that all got pushed. And I think we just sort of looked at it, maybe inspired by Phoebe Bridgers, for instance, who still put out her record, and other certain artists like that where it’s just like, “You know what it’s like a ghost town out here right now and with everybody pushing their albums”, like there’s not a lot of things for people to look forward to right now. 

So why don’t we just put it out and keep our fingers crossed that it doesn’t just go by the wayside a month later? Without us being unable to tour on it, we got to just believe in the record and hope that it sticks with people enough to where when we eventually can tour that they’re still excited to hear it. And talking to a bunch of musician friends these last bunch of months, cause you know, I feel like we all reach out to one another just for fucking therapy’s sake, not feeling so alone in this nightmare that we’re all in. And the funny thing is like we all get to sort of feel what it feels like to announce a reunion tour, even though we don’t have to break up. Because when we can announce a tour it’s gonna feel like a reunion for everybody. 

That reminds me of the First Ever Podcast episode you did with Andy Hull where he’s like, “we’re hitting every single market in the world once we’re able to tour again.” That’s probably going to be true for a lot of bands, honestly. All this pent-up aggression just ready to be released and you’ll want to get out to everywhere and anywhere to play these songs.

Oh, absolutely, you hit the nail on the head. “Come Heroine” and so many parts on this record that I cannot wait to be able play live. Like it’s going to feel so big. And we’re obviously not gonna be able to perform every night with Andy Hull. In the back of my mind, I’m like, “Fuck, how are we gonna pull this off?” But I think by the time we’ll get to tour, my hope is that we’ll just let the audience sing that part. I think it would be really awesome. And it excites me to even think about that. 

Having Andy guest on “Limelight” almost feels like a full circle moment from “To Write Content,” so it’s really dope to finally get him and Touché together on something.

Not to spoil everything cause I’m an oversharer, but we’ve always shot the shit about doing a split together or doing a collaborative EP together or something like that, you know? But it’s never really worked out like that. The plan was always like, “Oh, maybe when we do a US tour, we’ll take two days off when we’re in Atlanta and go use their studio and we can write a couple songs,” but like, it always kind of felt like a pipe dream because we’re doing some support tours where we obviously have no say in routing or they were on tour or writing a record. It’s really hard to make things like that line up. So “Limelight” is actually the first song we wrote for the record a long time ago in what I want to say maybe early 2019 if not late 2018. Once that end part was sort of written, I was like, “Oh my God. Andy would crush this.” And originally the idea was to have him just do some really pretty “ooos and ohhhs” and not have lyrics. I hadn’t considered it. And that morning when he went into the studio at home to work on it and he texted me like an image of 12 lines of lyrics that he wrote. He was like, “Do you mind if I try this?” Of course dude. Like, by all means. So the “oohs and ooos” that were originally planned are over the outro when Nick (Steinhardt) is doing the the pedal stool part. So we still got to use them in a creative way. We were really taken aback by Andy’s contribution to that song. And I’m so thrilled. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still do something together later on, but I feel like this was a great first experience working with him in general. He was such a pleasure and he has an endless supply of ideas, that guy too. For me, that outro is like a top three part that the band has ever done.

And also who’s going to say no to Andy Hull giving you lyrics? Like, “Actually we’re going in a different direction.” You’re not turning that down.

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. 

That vibe of the “Limelight” outro feels even more explored on “A Broadcast.” The pacing kind of reminds me of some Arcade Fire Funeral shit.

I’ve never thought about that comparison. 

Yeah maybe it’s a lazy comparison but it made me think of “Wake Up” at moments. But it’s definitely a sonic journey that I would never have pictured being in the Touché discography even five years ago.

Nick started learning how to play that instrument. And when we started really taking writing the record, seriously, I proposed to him writing a song for the band using that and see how weird we can get. I always say a lot of our records have a lot of similarities to them with a track listing that emphasizes the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs, the big moments, the quiet moments of the record. And every record has the weirdo song. Parting The Sea had “Condolences” and that was the weirdo song because it was piano. Is Survived By has “Nonfiction” – the post-rock sort of song that we were experimenting with and then Stage Four has “Skyscraper.” So I looked at this as the weirdo song.

Nick wrote this really beautiful sort of swaying pedal steel back and forth sort of thing. And the guys started to build on it. It was really tough for me to find a way to approach it lyrically. I went through ideas. I was like, maybe I’ll just talk over this or maybe it’s just an instrumental, I don’t know how to do it. I think when I have anxiety and fear of how to approach a song, that fear takes over and I just sort of become dismissive or I’m like, “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do over this,” even though it’s like my fault. But once I figured it out, I was really excited about it. Especially the chorus, which is just like the “whoa oh oh’s” and it just clicked in my head where I was like, “I don’t even need to write lyrics over this.” If I just do this chant, it’ll feel big. And it was a really fun song to write. And I was so excited to hear how it all came together. Like the intro of the song was dubbed “Sad Hawaiian.” We were laughing about how it just sounds like the saddest guy at the campfire playing this really dinky sounding acoustic. But it adds so much to it. And we have a cool video somewhere of Clayton (Stevens) recording the guitar for that in the vocal booth with like the lights out just to get a really sort of ominous feeling. It’s a nice break in the record.

There’s a lot of cool moments throughout Lament. And we definitely need to talk about “Reminders” because it has this pop structure that you would ever imagine a Touché song implementing.

Oh, you’re absolutely right. Even when we were putting it together and working on it, I brought up to Ross: “this is our ‘Ry Ry’s Song’.” I’ve always dubbed this song sort of the cursed song because it went through so many changes, Drew. I can’t even tell you of moments where we almost scrapped it. There’s demos of that song that sound nothing like how it sounds today. It’s tough when you have those moments where two members of the band really liked this one part and then you and other members don’t like that part, but they really liked this other part, and then it’s those sort of pushes and pulls that that can make or break a song where you have to compromise on what you liked and this, that, and the other things. It went through a lot of different iterations and once I sort of like started to put together how I was gonna sing it, it started to get sort of a life of its own. But I remember early on thinking that I really want to have a woman sing over this chorus with me because it already feels like a really big “going for it” kind of chorus. And if we just throw this underneath it with me, it’s just going to push it up that much further. And it’s like, “If we’re going to go for it, let’s fucking go for it.” Let’s make it as big as possible just because we can. It’s right there, why not do it?

And then there was another whole level of the cursed thing where there was several different singers approached to contribute to the song that weren’t available or like couldn’t get it to work. The song had already been mixed before Julian (Baker) came in. And I didn’t approach Julian at first because I felt that she already did such a solid with “Skyscraper.” I never want to overstep with a friend and I was also like, “is it lame to have her on the record again?” But fuck that. Like fucking Justin Vernon’s on like a hundred Kanye songs. It doesn’t matter. So I came to her with my tail between my legs being like, “I don’t expect you to agree to this. I don’t want you to think that taking advantage of our friendship,” you know, because I’m that person where I’m always worried. And she’s such a hero to me where she was like, “Are you kidding me? Send me the song.” She sent it to us back the next day and just crushed it. I owe Julian so much and I always will. She’s one of a kind and I adore her. I’m so thankful for what she brought to that song. 

Lament feels like the perfect title to follow up what Stage Four was about and what it meant to you. Stage Four was like what you needed to create just for your own mental health. And Lament is just an incredible way to follow up such a heavy, vulnerable record. 

I had to sort of reeducate myself on how to approach writing a record a little bit, because I had fallen into feeling of each record needing to have a theme. The last two records had a theme and I look at Stage Four as a necessary album to write for me even though it was not an enjoyable album at all for me to write. It was the easiest album I’ve ever written because there was an endless supply of things to think about or sing about. But at no point was, I like, “Man, I really love how this part is sounding with my vocals” because I was just needing to express myself and to get those horrible, horrible feelings out. 

So approaching this record, I had a really, really tough time with writer’s block because I just didn’t know where to go. And I approached all sorts of different musicians and friends to talk about it but one day I went up in the Epitaph office and I talked to (Epitaph founder) Brett (Gurewitz) about it. I explained to him where I was at and Brett told me, “Dude, you don’t have to write a better record than Stage Four. You just have to write a good record.” And that’s stuck with me where I was like, you know, he’s right. 

Like Parting The Sea didn’t necessarily have a specific theme and same with Dead Horse. I needed to remind myself that it’s okay to sing about a bunch of different things. All my favorite records are songs about a bunch of different things, you know? I’m allowed to sing about semi-political stuff with “Reminders.” I’m allowed to sing about an appreciation for the people in my life. I’m allowed to sing about how my life has been since Stage Four. I kind of called this record a companion piece because the last few tracks are catching the listener up on what my life has been since that record. So, um, yeah, that’s how I approached it. And “Lament” was written early on and there was a bunch of different ideas for the name of the album. And when I took a step back, I just looked at it and that word kind of encompasses everything that I’m feeling.

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