By Jordan Walsh
An outline of a staircase adorns the cover of Pentimento’s sophomore full-length, I, No Longer—a simple, but entirely apt image for the Buffalo-based rock band. Coming nearly three years removed from the release of their rough-around-the-edges self-titled record, I, No Longer is the smoothed out and tightened up sound of a band moving up in the world. Leaning more toward pop rock rather than punk stylings, I, No Longer represents a turning point for Pentimento. In this exclusive Minaret interview, drummer and primary lyricist Mike Hansen discusses this turning point in detail in the days leading up to the record’s official Oct. 23 release. The band will perform at Tampa’s Epic Problem on Oct. 25.
Minaret: First thing I’m curious about is the title of the record–I, No Longer. The songs seem to refer a lot to transition, moving on and growing as a person. Is this kind of the idea of the title or did I totally miss the mark?
Mike Hansen: The idea, as i’m sure is the case with many album titles, was to come up with something that would encapsulate the record to represent the sum of its parts, yet leave enough mystery there for the listener to attach their own meaning to the title. Or to “fill in the blank,” if you will. Much like the way I’d imagine someone trying to title a novel. Ultimately, it’s a question you should be answering as you listen. It’s just another piece of the puzzle. Something beyond the songs, lyrics, etc. to explore and make your own meanings out of what we offer with the record.
M: Production-wise, I, No Longer is is much sleeker and bigger sounding than the self-titled record. How was the recording process different between the two records?
MH: I feel like I couldn’t give you enough words to fully explain the reason this record is so different from anything we’ve done before. There’s such a wild laundry list of things that made this process different from anything we’ve done before. Many books could be published on all the ways this LP recording experience contrasts with our past ones. But the most essential and pivotal parts of what makes this so different has more to do with the situation we put ourselves in by deciding to live in Baltimore for a month while making this record, and less to do with the production itself. Speaking from the inside of course, this record feels different because we finally sound like a band who’s got something to prove. All of our past efforts were sonic representations of us just trying to “figure it out.” And of course, we are proud of those efforts. But when it came time for this LP, the pressure was certainly there to create something that was just better in every sense of the word. Luckily, we left the studio with a record that sort of denotes that effort by being a bigger, cleaner, louder sounding record. I don’t know if there’s enough time in a day to explain how this record ended up being so different—but from a production standpoint we feel really lucky to have put something like this together, because we finally felt like we sounded like a real band. To be perfectly honest, that recording experience beat the shit out of us. Hearing the end result being what it is makes that completely worth it.
M: Speaking of the self-titled, I was wondering about that record’s release. You initially put it out for free due to label issues–what effect do you think this had on getting your name out there? How different does this release process now that you’re on Bad Timing Records?
MH: Initially, I hated that the band was getting attention because of something like label issues. Press is press, and I can’t ignore that it made the release of our record a bigger deal at the time. What I came to realize is that people were involved with the band on a new level after that. Everyone was in on something. It was kind of beautiful, even though it kept us up most nights for a little while. Looking back—it probably did us at least a little bit of good. People began paying attention once they heard the story. I’d like to get back to that place with people. I want to share exactly what goes on because I think it’s important for people to see what really goes on in small-band-world. I’m thankful we have the chance at all.
M: The record as a whole is less rough and more sleek–but the harder moments are even more intense as a result. Was this a conscious decision?
MH: Definitely. My journey as a musician and songwriter has brought me to think about things a lot differently when writing a song. Trying to capitalize on the idea of what each song calls for is the reason the record came out the way it did. After a year of listening back, I hear our missteps. I am extremely proud of this record, though. It’s the first time we’ve ever sounded like a real band in my opinion.
M: Going from there—”Tiger Eye” has one of the heaviest moments of the record, both lyrically and sonically. What was the writing process for that song like? Can you give some insight to the lyrics?
MH: I wrote that song in my living room the day we came home from a tour we were on at some point 18 months ago or so. I broke down as soon as I finished writing it. The original acoustic demos are so shitty because you can hear my cracking, stuffy, garbage, overtly-emotional voice trying to get through these verses without losing it or whatever. But, as embarrassing as that might be, I had to capture that moment. The song is about how close my father is to dying, how terrified I am of that, and how I’m just sort of watching it happen in real time. There have been a few times on tour where I’ve gotten “the call,” you know? Some frantic family member telling me that my dad was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, or that he passed out because he couldn’t breathe, etc. and of course it never gets any easier to get that kind of message, no matter what the situation is. It seems like every tour we’ve done the past few years has included at least one instance where I walk into a room or get in the van with tears in my eyes and have to have that “sorry guys, I think my dad is about to die and I have to go home” conversation. Luckily, he’s pulled through every time and actually straight up ordered me to stay on the road and keep doing what we’re doing. The dude will just not let me come home to make sure he’s okay. It makes me feel so selfish and confused about what actually means anything in this world and fucks me up every single day, man.
M: “Tell Me” is maybe the most subdued song on the record–especially compared to the loud ending of the self-titled’s “On Summer.” Why do you think the record called for this kind of ending?
MH: Not to cop-out here—but it just felt right. We all enjoyed the song, but as we played with sequencing the record, it seemed like a great book-end with “Small Talk For Strangers.” So the song was built around the same chord progression, same vibe melody-wise, etc. It’s supposed to be a reference to the beginning of the record while literally using the words “the end” to finish the record. “On Summer” was something else entirely—and it should be, because these records are supposed to be night/day. We grew up a little. We did things and experienced things and had ideas and feelings and thoughts over the course of a few years and without a real place to call home. We want you to be able to hear that. “Tell Me” just kind of put the idea together. Gave the record a vibe.
M: “Got My Answer” and “Again” make up the center portion of the track listing. Was there any thinking behind putting those two at the heart of the record?
MH: Absolutely. The entire record was built and sequenced to be a thing that makes sense in different ways at different points in the record. We are hoping that when people listen to the record, they will attach to the mood that’s created by each section and feel the cohesive effort we put toward writing, recording, and then organizing these songs to set up the vibe for I, No Longer. “Again” is the interlude that’s supposed to set you up for the darker half of the record, and “Got My Answer” was the song we felt best set up the interlude. The record moves from a more poppy/upbeat/melody-centered section into something that’s a total product of being visceral and searching for sounds that make you as uncomfortable as the situations that inspired them. If it’s not the music representing this hurt or cold feeling sonically, the lyrics try to pick up on the idea and illustrate it through words. “Clever Reason” may be a good example of the latter. We thought about that stuff a lot. Tiny details I totally wouldn’t have considered if we didn’t have the chance to be together for 24 hours a day, in the same exact 12×12 room every day for over a month just trying to make art.
M: The artwork is very simple but very striking–how do you think the image ties in with the music?
MH: This is another thing I feel like I could go on forever about. Each song on the record is represented by its own unique visual. Everything we used to represent the 12 tracks on the record has something to do with the content or the feeling you’d get while listening. We thought it would be a cool way for the people who listen to attach themselves to the song even further. Without the record even being out yet, we’ve seen tattoos of the record art, as well as the images for some of the songs we’ve released already—which is insane, but also a good indicator that maybe we did something right. The design is simple because the record needs to speak for itself. I suppose the reason the record cover is a simple staircase design—which is the shared image for “My Solution Is In The Lake”—is because the “you climb the stairs to an apartment that you don’t call home anymore” part is a moment on our record that makes it feel “real” to me, and I wanted to utilize that as the face for the record. In my head, when that part happens, it’s a true musical moment on the LP. I don’t know what it is about the tones, or vocal delivery, or mixing or whatever the fuck is going on there…but it gives me chills every time and I felt it was important enough to use that song’s image as the actual cover of the record because it means that much to me.
M: You’re about to start a new tour–anything from the record that you’re excited to break out?
MH: Very excited to see how these songs translate live. It’s always a little scary, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to finally play these songs for people after our record has been finished for about a year at this point.
M: How did you end up touring with Better Off?
MH: [Better Off’s] Milk is an incredible record. So stoked for that band. There’s really nothing to solve for you on this one—we just kicked around the idea and then one day our booking agents were like “hey you’re doing this thing” and we said “rad.”
M: What was the thinking behind releasing “Stuck Forever” first?
MH: I have no idea. “Sink Or Swim” was supposed to be first, which we thought made sense because it’s a more upbeat song and may have been fitting for the summer. But I think Bad Timing convinced us to give “Stuck Forever” a shot as the lead, because it better showcases our growth as a band. I can agree that our record sounds more like “Stuck Forever” than “Sink Or Swim,” so I’m glad we didn’t do something just to play it safe.
M: What do you think has changed for the band since the self-titled and Inside The Sea? How do you think it shows up in the songs?
MH: Everything has changed. I don’t think about things the same way at all. Music, relationships, the world—it’s all different now. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing yet—but I know that it’s where I’m comfortable and where I feel most like myself. It shows up in the songs lyrically a ton on this record. Those feelings are inspiring too–and so one major takeaway from this record for me was tapping into lyric ideas that weren’t directly about relationships—present or past. Of course, those songs exist on the record, but it’s a sign of growth personally as well as artistically to not stay stuck on things that broke you down 5 years ago. We’re here now, you know? I’m excited to write about more things that I wasn’t able to touch on in time for I, No Longer. But to answer your question—everything is completely different except for the idea that I have no clue what I’m doing.
M: Anything else you’d like to talk about?
MH: I, No Longer is out on Oct. 23rd via Bad Timing Records. The Buffalo music scene is insane right now. I somehow care about hockey all of the sudden. Please kill me.
Jordan Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.