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Friday, August 10, 2012

The Promise Ring Interview

Posted by Morgan Troper on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 1:35 PM

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[Editor's note: Hardy emo fans rejoiced when it was announced that the Promise Ring were going to play Portland—that show, scheduled for tonight, August 10, was canceled, but not before we interviewed Dan Didier of the band. Morgan Troper talked to Didier about the reunion, the band's history, and what's next. Hopefully it will assuage the hearts of the many fans who were bummed when the show got pulled.]

• • •

MERCURY: When was the last time the Promise Ring played Portland?
DAN DIDIER: On our last tour, we played the Crystal Ballroom, I think for the Plea for Peace tour. That was probably our second-to-last show, if not our third-to-last show.

When was that?
2002.

I'm assuming that wasn't the only time the Promise Ring has played in Portland.
No, no, we played there a bunch. Almost every tour, we played there.

For this upcoming tour, how many dates are you playing?
Well, we're doing 15 throughout the whole year. For this particular leg of the tour, we're flying into Portland, then flying down to LA and doing LA and Pomona, and then flying home.

Without spoiling it necessarily, what percentage of your set is songs off 30 Degrees Everywhere and Nothing Feels Good? Do you think that most people want to hear those songs?
Yeah, but we have a pretty well-rounded set. I mean, it's basically the same set we've had this whole time. We try to do enough from each of the records, to showcase all of those songs. We do about four from 30 Degrees, we do around five or six from Nothing Feels Good, and then we do four to five from Very Emergency, then four from Wood/Water. So yeah, basically four to five songs from each record. It depends if we cut any, but it's usually a 26-song set. We do a song from the Boys + Girls EP, a song from the Electric Pink EP, and a song off of the split 7-inch we did with Texas Is the Reason, which I think is also on Horse Latitudes.

I remember wondering whether or not this was going to be one of those tours where the band plays a specific album in its entirety, but I almost prefer that it isn't.
Well, unless it's billed as that. I'm actually totally for those types of things, like the Bob Mould tour. "I'm gonna do Copper Blue!"—awesome, I'll be there, that's one of my favorite records. No problem. I mean, I would go to Bob Mould regardless, but I think it's even cooler that it's a "special event," that it's just that album—I think that's genius. But if you're going there to see the band, and they only play one record, and they're not saying, "Hey, we're only going to do this one record"—then yeah, it can kind of be a bum-out. We're very erratic as far as song selection goes. We even tweeted and asked on Facebook for song suggestions.

When you guys started out, "emo" was just this insular offshoot of punk that in many ways was indistinguishable from indie rock, and then it turned into something very different, clearly. It seems like people are trying to reclaim it now. A lot of the Jade Tree stuff at least seems really cool again, possibly due to the advent of Tumblr and similar mediums. Is that something you're aware of, or is it something the band knows about?
Knows about what, the resurgence of Jade Tree?

Yeah, right.
Oh, I have no idea. Are they? That's cool…The royalty checks we get from them don't reflect that! [laughs] But I'm glad there's interest in that music. I may be a bit biased, but I think the stuff Jade Tree was putting out around the time we were on that label was really good. So: awesome, I'm glad people are appreciating it, because I certainly appreciated a lot of those releases… when they were out the first time. But yeah, I have no idea. I haven't heard anything about renewed interest in those bands or that label. But I think that's great.

I think people my age found out about those bands by listening to newer, more mainstream bands - they sort of worked backwards.
Yeah, I mean once you put something out and it hits some level of success, and that influences somebody who then puts out a record that also hits a certain level of success, then yeah, there's always that trickle-back effect. Like, "my favorite band's favorite band is X"—so that's great, especially in the age of Tumblr or whatever you mentioned where that conversation can happen very easily. Nowadays, it's more immediate. You can go anywhere, and it's right there. Stuff like: "check this new band out, they're going to support us on our next tour, blah blah blah"—that sort of stuff is immediate now, which is great.

A lot of people talk about how the Promise Ring records get progressively poppier, culminating with Wood/Water. Can you describe the band's evolution?
Well, I certainly disagree with it, because I don't really think Wood/Water is poppy at all. Very Emergency—yes, absolutely, without a doubt. But Wood/Water I think isn't. What happened was we were searching for something that culminated with Very Emergency. And this is me reflecting on our output 10 to 15 years ago—which is to say, this is completely an outsider's perspective—because at the time, we had no idea what we were doing, except for "let's put out this really fun record, and let's write these songs, and then take that record, have a label put it out, and then go tour." That was our mindset. Write, record, tour, write, record, tour—no preconceived notion of what we were really doing, except for that it was what was coming naturally to us, at the time.

So 15 years on, 10 years on, or whatever, looking back it seems like 30 Degrees Everywhere was an experiment, spaghetti thrown at the wall, we were fresh as a band, we were still trying to work out inter-dynamics and all that stuff. But with Nothing Feels Good, the approach was "we got this pop stuff a lot, but we're still kind of holding onto our 'punk' roots, and also experimenting a little bit" with songs like the title track, and even going farther with "How Nothing Feels." And then Very Emergency was just pop, straight up. No frills, just super straightforward. The approach was, "Let's do that—let's do a record that's just 10 songs, boom, boom, boom, done." We weren't trying to experiment with anything. And then after that, we were like, "let's tear everything down, let's start anew, and start writing in a completely different way"—because you know, in between Very Emergency and Wood/Water, ProTools became even more easily accessible, so we used that as almost a writing tool. So that software opened up a whole new realm of experimentation. So again, from an outsider's perspective…(laughs) I see (our evolution) as that. As a band, we didn't want to do the same record twice. Wood/Water became the antithesis of Very Emergency - without Very Emergency, Wood/Water wouldn't have existed, and vice versa.

Which Promise Ring record is your personal favorite, if you have one?
I don't. I honestly don't, because I have serious issues with all of them. I like moments of some of them. Especially in the beginning. With the first two records, we were young and didn't have a whole lot of knowledge of the recording process, especially for 30 Degrees Everywhere. With Nothing Feels Good I was totally fine to let J. Robbins and Stuart Sikes kind of just "have it at." And Very Emergency, again with J., was a very nice record to be apart of and play on and that whole thing. Wood/Water was the most fun to record, because we did it in England with Stephen Street, so that was kind of cool. I am glad we had the opportunity to do that, it was pretty amazing. But I have serious problems with some of that record, too. There are flaws with all of them. Even if it's just something that I notice and that irritates me. There are certain songs I love playing off each of them, but as a total album, I don't really have a favorite.

Why did the Promise Ring break up initially?
Fighting started between all of us. The band became less fun and more of a burden. We had to make that choice of like, "Hey, let's be friends, let's stop this thing that is practically tearing our friendships apart"—because if we would have continued on, we would all hate each other, and we wouldn't be doing this reunion tour, we wouldn't be speaking to one another, and all that stuff.

But the reunion shows have been pleasant so far?
Yeah, oh yeah, absolutely. But only because we decided to break up and not hate each other for the rest of our lives. It's a total blast.

Do you think there's any possibility the Promise Ring will ever release something else, or is this where it ends?
I don't think so. I don't know, I won't rule it out or ever say no definitely. But all I know is that there hasn't been any talk of that, we haven't had that conversation yet. It's not anything we're seriously discussing right now.

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