New Artist Focus: Spell Runner

Photo: Alexis Ochi

Spell Runner is a hardcore punk band from upstate New York. They’ve had my attention since they dropped their debut release, Always on the Cool, this spring via Fuzz Records, and I’ve been hooked since. Their haunting blend of post-punk, hardcore, and surf is hard to ignore, and since catching wind they’re working on new material, I decided to touch base with guitarist Jason Ex and bassist Richard Keefer to learn more. 

Tell me about the members of Spell Runner and how you all met.

Mathew on vocals, Jason on guitar, Benjamin on drums, and Keefer on bass. Jason and Keefer have known each other since they were kids. Some years back, Jason did sound at a local Albany club called Bogies. The spot used to be a staple in the hardcore scene that was ran by Upstate Black N Blue. This is where he met Matt and Ben who were playing in other hardcore bands at the time. It’s the grounds we were all able to meet and eventually form.

I find that most listeners are drawn to Spell Runner based on your sound, tell me about your lyrics. 

We talk about issues that concern us in our own comedic way; satire is the theme. We write some of these lines hoping to get a laugh out of people. "Burn Rate"’s line “swiping right in the fumes” gives us a funny imagine in our heads of a society oblivious to a world literally on fire around them while they carry on with their trivial bullshit. “Cannonball into hell with the reaper” affirms this feeling in our intro to the record. To hell in a handbasket, as they say.

When and how did you get introduced to punk and hardcore?

We all got introduced through various mediums. Keefer got into punk/hardcore through skate videos. Specifically, Lizard King’s part from Pigwood Slaughterhouse which featured Minor Threat’s “Look Back and Laugh."

Jason had a father figure in his life that was associated with punk and hardcore. He started going to shows and playing guitar at an early age.

Tell us about your experience with Albany, and Upstate New York in general (music and otherwise).

Albany is a peculiar place. It was actually ranked as one of the most unfriendly cities to live in by some national poll. The winters here in upstate New York don’t help either. The upside to this is that it is the perfect environment for aggresive hardcore to emerge. Scenes always come and go just as any other place. Different pockets of upstate New York still have things going on. We’re excited to play Syracuse’s Westcott Community Center on the upcoming tour with Fixation. We all used to drive out to the 315 to see bands at that venue. Black SS, Forfeit, and the infamous Earth Crisis. They had a strong hardcore scene, we hope it’s back on the rise. 

Keefer, you live part time in Philadelphia. Tell us about some of the differences between show going here and Albany.

Philly is great for shows. There’s plenty of new bands to catch. Honestly, splitting my time between both places makes it hard for me to keep up. That being said, I’m stoked to see most current hardcore/punk bands that come through Philadelphia whenever I get the chance. 

With Albany, obviously it’s going to be different for me. I grew up going to shows here. Albany is very nostalgic and intimate for me. I’ve made lifelong friends here. Friends who I’ve watched go on to do cooler things in different branches of the music industry. The scene is significantly smaller with almost everyone knowing each other more or less. So the good shows that do come through here mean a bit more and are welcomed. 

It’s clear that you pull from a range of different subgenres, but I mostly hear influence from hardcore and post-punk. What are some of your favorite bands from each? 

As far as contemporary bands, we’ve been head banging to the likes of Gouge Away, Diat, Big Bite, Fiddlehead, Swain, Turnstile. Some of our classics are the Damned, Agent Orange, the Cramps, Infest, Minor Threat, Black Sabbath. 

I hear you’re working on new music. What can we expect from the new material? 
Right now we’ve been experimenting with some new things to mix things up from our usual fast paced/high tempo songs. Jason is always finding new sonic grounds with his boutique guitar pedal obsession. The two new songs we have are already have are starting to come into their own. We’d like to polish things up a little bit for the next record and have some heavier, catchier tracks. 

What are some current bands from your area that you’d recommend?

Drug Church, Hour of Lead, Spite Ritual, Y.B.O.D. We also have some close friends of ours that just started a new project under the code name “Prize." It’s members of Spell Runner and Throat Culture. Heavy, droning, nightmarish hardcore. Benjamin, who also plays drums in this project, describes the sound as: “You’ve finally gained the courage to kill that person you’ve been stalking for the last six months.” An oddly specific description, but it gets the point across. 


Always on the Cool is out now via Fuzz Records on 12" vinyl, cassette, and digital.

Spell Runner on social media: Instagram | Twitter

Tagged: new artist focus, spell runner