There have been a lot of great top ten and albums you missed lists this year and I have been turned on to a lot of great bands by them. Personally, Rolo Tomassi’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It and Turnstile's Time & Space are among my favorite releases of 2018. As they remain in pretty constant rotation, but there’s one band that’s missing from all the lists I came across, a CD that has not been removed from my car all year. That is Cleveland's very own Pillärs and their debut full-length, Abandoned.
Perhaps you didn’t catch them on their vast tour of the Midwest and beyond this year, or you don’t have the pleasure of living in the same city and seeing them live pretty much whenever you want. Alas, don’t fret, I caught up with the power trio just after their last show of 2018 and before they are held up in their jam spot to work on material for the new year. Together we will get you up to speed.
Released in January on cassette (Tape Haus), self released on CD and digital. Abandoned is like a banshee howling in the night. Haunting the halls and stairways of forgotten warehouses, factories, and mills. Slamming doors and breaking windows. Leaving a pile of broken glass and dreams in its wake. From the start of the opening track, “Last Rites,” you know exactly what you’re in for. A voyage down the gloomiest river of sludge and D-beat imaginable. By track 5 you’ll feel hopelessly lost at sea. But, as they sing “the wind will be your guide” the Sabbath-esque riffage brings you back to shore and the blast beats in “Beneath the Ice” and “When Towers Fall” bring you back to life. Ready to conquer the murky depths from which you came.
I must admit, I was looking for sort of a quick recap and what’s ahead from Zach, Mike and Joe, but what I got was so much more. Unexpected, but not surprised. As these 3 imbibe the very same rust and the gray that inspires so many great bands from the midwest. Similar to their peers, not only in sound but desperation. Kindred spirits screaming for change, for light in an otherwise dim landscape.
So, Pillars has had one hell of a year. New album, tour and new bass player. How are you guys feeling?
Zach G. (guitar/vocals): That’s honestly a really tough question for me right now because I feel like I’m on a roller coaster and just barely hanging on. The album came out, we got awarded
a grant by a local music foundation that we didn’t even apply for, and we booked a tour that went through Canada and included a stop at Saint Vitus in NYC, which was
like a dream come true because that’s one of those contemporary places that so many of my favorite bands have played. Then my dad died on the last day of tour, things fell apart with our original bass player, and my now-ex and I started the process of getting divorced all in a span of three months. I just kind of holed up living alone in the house we used to share and was not doing good. Didn’t do dishesfor like two months.
Mail stacked up, forgot to pay some bills, trash everywhere. Barely made it to work. Felt like everything was gone. The summer of 2018 was probably the lowest point in my life and it’s been a slow crawl out of that hole. There are a lot of things I’m working out, and a lot of those conflicts and struggles are coming through in the stuff we are writing now. I’ve been listening to a lot of diverse stuff, everything from 12th Century Eastern Orthodox church music to '90s hip-hop to early death metal but also revisiting the music that got me through some really tough times when I was younger. There’s a line from "Three Nights" by Black Flag that goes “I wanna make you feel like you make me feel." That’s where I’m at right now.
Joe Lipa (bass/vocals): It’s been a crazy year on my end but moving to Cleveland to join this band on bass has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Things had been pretty bleak for a long while back home and I just couldn’t seem to catch a break. After my previous band Dirt War broke up this summer, Zach and Mike had reached out to hang for a weekend and jam out some tunes and later asked me to join. From the connection our bands had previously built from playing shows as well as the personal connection shared, I’m very excited to be a part of this group and am proud to call this city my new home.
Give me a little background on the current lineup. Where you grew up, influences etc.
Zach G.: I grew up just north of Youngstown in Warren, OH. The Mahoning Valley is a fucked up place to grow up, but now I’m kind of happy I’m from there. Gives a different perspective on a lot of things. That said, it’s tough going back to visit. Places like that are prime targets for Trump and all that white nationalist evangelical trash, and have been for a long time. I take a lot of influence from using music to confront shit like that. I think environment has a tremendous impact on the music you play. So growing up I just got the sense that there was a club out there that I was not in and could never really be a part of. When you grow up in that kind of place, there’s a huge, unspoken chip on the shoulder that’s impossible to get away from, a real outsider mentality and I think for better or worse I’ve carried that into the music I make. I listen to music for mood and how it aligns to how I’m feeling more than anything else: doesn’t matter if it’s Stravinsky, Public Enemy, Autopsy, or King Crimson. Obviously, I know the personal guitar heroes and favorite bands are in what I play, so I think the challenge is trying hard to recognize the profound influence those players and bands have had without becoming a cheap imitation of any of them.
Mike Burrows (drums): I'm from Cleveland, I'm a lifer here. I grew up in the next county over and then got to watch all of the woods and fields I played in as a little kid get bulldozed for McMansions when all of the suit-and-tie types fled the city and moved to the outer-outer-ring towns. Most of my memory of Cleveland from then is just this rusted crumbling wasteland full of bombed-out buildings and vacant lots. It's coming back, even though usually that just means another Michael Symon restaurant or another block of luxury townhomes, but there are some great spots, excellent bands and amazing people here. In general I look for music that creates some kind of genuine emotional reaction. I want to hear songs that make me ecstatic, or sad, or a song that just absolutely destroys me. Motörhead or Miles Davis or Khanate. For what we do I gravitate back to crustier, more bleak bands that sound like life in Cleveland to me, like His Hero is Gone, Masakari, The Secret, and Skitsystem, with some Cursed and Baptists mixed in.
Joe: I’m from Buffalo, NY but have made a few moves living elsewhere in the States and internationally. Buffalo is virtually a smaller version of Cleveland with just way
more snow and almost Canadian. Although it’s a fairly poor city with fewer opportunities and options, its rich in its DIY music/arts scene and I couldn’t be more appreciative to have had that growing up as well as be a part. As Zach said previously, environment has a strong hand in the music you play. I take influence from everything around me but my hometown will always have a tremendous effect on my outlook and the writing process. There are way too many bands to list that influenced me, but Black Flag’s My War changed my life as a teenager and still is one of my favorite records. Currently speaking, I've been jamming a lot of Siege, Eyehategod, Skullflower, Noothgrush, Captain Beefheart, and Marvin Gaye.
What are the plans for Pillärs in 2019?
Mike: We've got a few things in the works right now but don't want to spoil things too much — winter’s about to hit us full-scale here, so at the moment we're holding up to write new songs with the plan to head to the studio in a few months to start tracking some of them. After that, we're charting out the next tour in the fall, mixed with some shorter runs through the rust belt and some quick weekend bursts with sibling bands.
Zach G.: What Mike said. We are focusing on writing right now and being a bit more measured in how we approach things. As always we are going to be helping out our
friends when they come through the area, and personally I am really looking forward to getting back on the road with what feels like a fresh start.
Joe: Getting acquainted to my new home in Cleveland I really love the vibe of this city and look forward to writing and hitting the road.