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There Were Wires: Late '90s, Early '00s Metalcore Band Discusses Somnambulists Reissue

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

Nostalgia fuels the elders of any underground scene. The nature of music is the niche coveting the incremental movements. It happens in hip-hop, hardcore, and metal. Those ebbs and flows become badges worn by those who were there for the flashes of time. In the mid-'90s in New England, it was rote to see Only Living Witness and Overcast play every weekend.

A decade later those band were noted as instrumental in the formation of a monumental sound. Laments of “I never saw them live” echo from people drooling over their favorite record created by a band, indulging posthumously. The admiration and envy forms as a sophomore is talking to a scene elder who is 5 or 10 years older than them. 

In the early '00s, CD technology was ubiquitous. Vinyl, expensive and clunky, yielded to a compact disc which was easily played in the car, home, and discmans as lone soldiers walked city and suburban streets succumbing to disdain of the public. Iodine Recordings and Tor Johnson Records have joined to resurrect a vibrant figure in the combustible underground scene of late '90s/early '00s New England.

There Were Wires slung out a few records; a self-released 4-track cassette (2000), a self-titled joint (2001, nine tracks), a split with Moment (2001), and a 2-track 7 inch, Nothing…Lipstick, A Little Blood (2003).

And as tastes and influence exponentially crystalized and formed the hyphenated Venn Diagram of referential bands, There Were Wires encompassed a seismic sound. They drew from contemporaries and past bands; mixing doom and psych and hardcore and noise and punk.

Casey Iodine (from the label, Iodine) and Jamie Mason (vocals/lyrics) replied to emails, while Paul from Tor Johnson sat over some seitan wings and local Mexican Lagers and stouts to discuss this cherished record, Somnambulists, in a new tantalizing outfit and presentation.

THE ORIGINAL:

Casey Iodine reflects on There Were Wires’ mindset and release of Somnambulists. “TWW was a rising band when Iodine was looking at signing them back in 2002. In fact, we were competing with a number of other labels who wanted to snatch them up, including Deathwish Inc. I think the band liked that Iodine was more of an ‘indie’ label, rather than a ‘hardcore’ label, and liked the idea of being under the umbrella with the diversity of genres.

"The band’s early stuff was mostly short and thrashy metal/hardcore songs, generally less than two minutes per song. I think that a lot of fans were really surprised when Somnambulists was released. It was such a departure from their early stuff, with longer songs and atmospheric interludes, similar to Neurosis. But everyone agreed that this was their best work; polished and refined.

"Critics gave the album much acclaim and alluded that the band was on their way to being one of the bigger metalcore bands of the era. While the record didn’t reach the full audience we thought it should, many newer bands have noted There Were Wires as a major influence, as they executed the doom and atmospheric metal sound with perfection. Had the label not ended when it did, I truly believe that this record would have become essential listening for the genre.”

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

Iodine has been dormant for 18 years since releasing bands such as There Were Wires, Garrison, Brand New, Orange Island and more. Somnambulists was their last release after inciting speakers and tense, young minds for a spurt of three years. Fitting that Somnambulists awakens Casey and his legacy with a haunting gatefold of this record. 

“Iodine Recordings closed its doors rather abruptly at the end of 2003 after facing some serious financial issues, as we didn’t see any way out of a downward spiral of debt and expenses. The music industry was changing rapidly at that time with the emergence of digital music. A lot small and medium-sized labels, like Iodine (Ferret, Eyeball, Big Wheel Recreation), all started going under as it was difficult to keep up with the changing landscape.

Somnambulists was the last record Iodine released before we closed shop. Because of that, it never received the attention or promotion it deserved. It never really got into people’s hands. The album was by far the best record I produced. We put a lot of time, energy, and money into making it what it was; working with producer Matt Squire (Panic at the Disco, Underoath, The Used). It was only fitting that this be the first project for the label’s return."

Casey continues: “I never liked the way things ended with the label and it has bothered me for almost 20 years. When the idea to restart Iodine came about, There Were Wires was the first band I thought of. Somnambulists was too good of an album to remain in relative obscurity, and it needed to reach the audience that it deserved. I also wanted to start where I left off in a way and rebuild the trust and relationships I had when the label was active. Because this record never got a proper release. It still feels fresh, new and relevant. I think it will appeal to both the new and old generations in the scene. 

“Iodine never fit neatly into a box when it came to genres. I think this is the perfect record to reintroduce the world to the label as it crosses over into various genres of both heavy music and post rock. It perfectly exemplifies the quality of music we aim to bring to people’s ears.”

Jamie Mason notes that his reflection of Somnambulists is conveyed, “with great fondness and a little bit of embarrassment, to be honest. When this record was being written, I think we were at an age when we were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to individually get our acts together as young adults, while collectively trying to prioritize a band that was born out of the simple tenets of ‘fun and freedom’. So, while we were at odds with all sorts of factors - sometimes even each other - we were still close friends who wanted to make the very best music we could at that time. 

“You can see it in the There Were Wires documentary that our friend Matt Spearin made back in 2003 (that coincided with the Somnambulists CD release). (There was) lots of silly bickering about incredibly banal issues, but at the same time, interspersed with footage of us playing live and sounding tighter than I ever thought we could be.

"I wish I could go back in time and tell our younger selves to not sweat the small stuff so much, and just enjoy every single second of the time we had together. But, I still don't think we’d listen. I’m just happy that the core members of the band - me, Ryan, Jebb, and Thomas - are still great friends even in our old age.” 

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

Somnambulists, as Casey Iodine alerted us to, was a departure from what fans had been provided with up until that point from the band. The prominent bass line from “Black Magic Rabbit," ending the reissue’s side A, certainly beckons the early days. Fast, spastic riffs and rhythms from parts of the album echo the self-titled CD’s chaos and thrashy hardcore leanings; “His Talk, Her Teeth’s bandying beginning; the nasty charging of “Get Cryptic."

Somnambulists was not a rejection of that past, but certainly a declaration of growth from it. The alignment of these young men growing as people, as artists, and as musicians proved to be too much for the restricted parameters of one genre.

Mason elaborates, “It felt very different to the point, that we all agreed that we would without question be alienating some fans of our previous material. In relation to the S/T, there was only one fast, noisy, stompy track to be heard on Somnambulists (“His Talk, Her Teeth”), while the rest of it ebbs and flows and rises and falls. It was all a bit of a gamble, where suddenly our songs are two or three times longer than our last record, with quiet interludes, builds and climaxes in nearly every track.

"We were demanding a lot of patience from kids that never had to be patient with us before, especially in a live setting. But it also felt right, so we took off into that dark, moody, post-metal corridor without looking back."

Again, as age provides, and music nerds feed off of, comparison is inevitable as the road behind dwindles and the rearview mirror distances.

“It’s hard not to pick apart early creative works from a distance of almost two decades, whether it’s music or art or writing. We were always pretty self-deprecating individuals in most regards, but I think I can speak for all of us when we say that, at the very least, Somnambulists still sounds relevant enough to us all that we agreed it deserved another few spins on the turntable.

"From my own personal standpoint, it’s very difficult to separate the music from all the other chaos that was happening in that snapshot of time. So, it’s a strange mix of happiness, nostalgia, and a little bit of sadness. Like most people in their early 20s, there’s all sorts of things I wish I had done differently, or been better about, or tried harder at. But this record is something I can say that I’m absolutely proud of to this very day, and the amount of people clambering to order this reissue all these years later makes me feel like we made something that really did stand the test of time.”

Somnambulists certainly can be heralded as Iodine’s upper echelon. The record is a pinnacle of such an exploratory era for hardcore and metal. But in a canon of apples and oranges, it’s a fruitless task. Casey was simply releasing music he enjoyed, but the innate drive to be different, to push back against the grain and categorization of ‘punk’ or ‘hardcore’ showed in the discography. He flexes some introspection. “Iodine didn’t have a large catalog of releases. We did a total of about 20 records before we closed our doors.

However, Iodine gained a name for itself for being a breeding ground for new artists that later went on to do some great things: Brand New went on to Triple Crown and had major success, Smoke or Fire signed to Fat Wreck Chords, Orange Island did releases on both Rise Records and Triple Crown, Gregor Samsa moved to Kora Records, and There Were Wires went on to form bands like Doomriders and Disappearer.

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

“I feel very fortunate to have worked with the bands that I did back then, and feel honored to be a part of their history. At Iodine, we were very selective of who we worked with and focused on music that we liked and on bands that had a strong work ethic. Instead of releasing a large number of records, we focused a lot of attention on each band in order to help them develop and grow.

"My biggest influences for the label’s model came from Sub Pop and Dischord, and I tried to develop a brand that was known for quality rather than a particular genre or sound. I believe that because of that, Iodine has marked a place in indie-rock history, however small it might be.”

Mirroring, or conveying and converting, that indie rock guidance is Somnambulists’ B-side, a cover of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic (For Karen)," from the iconic and beloved Goo. Cherished by skaters and noise-rock aficionados, Goo ushered in 1990; which would define independent music on an entirely new level.

Casey reports his impression of this unearthed treasure. “I had originally asked There Were Wires back in 2003 to record a B-Side so that we could release a single for the track, 'His Talk, Her Teeth,' which came out as a 7 inch before the original album was released. Even though TWW could be classified as a metalcore band, their influences were fairly vast; (as they) include Jane’s Addiction and Sonic Youth.

"They decided to title the seven inch single Nothing….. Lipstick, a Little Blood with inspiration from the artwork in Sonic Youth’s Goo. The band decided to record their interpretation of 'Tunic (For Karen)' from the same album, as they felt that it complimented the dark and ghostly nature of their new sound. The song was also recorded with Matt Squire during the Somnambulists sessions and was only released as a B-side until now.” 

Mason amends, “One of the things we were really excited about was being able to include our cover of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic (For Karen)." We recorded this during the Somnambulists sessions and put it on the B-side of a 7 inch with 'His Talk, Her Teeth,' and nothing else. There weren’t a ton of these 7 inches pressed. So, if you didn’t own it, it's likely you weren’t ever going to hear it. We couldn’t find the actual recordings for this track, so Alan Douches ripped it from a 7 inch and cleaned it up for the LP. It sounds amazing. 

“I’m pretty sure it was Jebb’s (our bassist) idea to do the cover, and it might be the only cover we could ever agree on. It's such a great track and it featured many elements that we were bringing into our songwriting at the time. From the uplifting yet heart-wrenching lyrics, to the steady, head-nodding groove, to the dreamy noise interlude. It's so moody and heavy.

"Plus, it added an extra level of ghostly strangeness with me singing Kim Gordon's lyrical interpretation of Karen Carpenter's disembodied voice. It’s one of the few songs where I’m not blowing my vocal cords to pieces the entire track.”

Allowing the lingering memories to envelop the tones and discordant notes of Somnambulists which are emanating from the stereo, it is no wonder that nostalgia reappears. Like any underground band, and especially one with TWW’s staggering work ethic, images of sweat and dirt and chaotic shows start to manifest. Touring was/is mandatory for any perpetual motion to solidify. Shows are the draw for fans and the band. The venting. The danger. The perspiration. The discomfort. The thrill.

The amoebic sway of strangers to pulsating sonic saturation. Mason recalls a couple of the shows which protrude his recollections.

“Two shows come to mind: one time we played in a basement of a punk house (The X-Haus) in Boston, and it was about a trillion degrees and loaded with kids. We were playing our last song (“The Physics of Air Hockey”) and were right at the climatic end, when the power suddenly went out - no lights, no amps, no mics. But everyone kept screaming along in nearly complete darkness, and you could feel this intense avalanche of voices and bodies and sweat roiling together in the otherwise dead silence of the moment. People still message me about that show fairly regularly. 

“The other was a show we played with Converge, Catharsis, and As the Sun Sets (pre-Daughters) in RI. The show drew so much attention that the original venue (Fort Thunder) got shut down by the cops, so it was moved last minute to As the Sun Sets practice space. It was a big space, but definitely not big enough for this show. Kids were packed all the way out into the hallway like half a football field away from the bands.

"We opened, and there was so much palpable tension and anticipation of getting things underway, that as soon as we started playing it felt like the place just erupted. Kids absolutely going crazy. It was particularly special to me because my childhood best friend Jody (who shepherded my musical tastes early on) was there in the crowd, along with my younger brother Ryan and millions of other friends. Aside from just being incredibly fun, the show was also a turning point for us and I remember we suddenly started getting offered bigger shows with more prominent bands after that.”

They would continue their road work with bands such as Converge, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, and even Zombi. 

If you remember those days in New England, there was something chaotic and dirty and challenging about hardcore and metal in those days. That era saw fashion slip in influence. It saw musical expression crack and tangentially expand. It saw genre walls crack. The resistance tried to reinforce the old school rules simple formulas. Art began to entice those bored with the formula. Bigger platforms began to draw crowds and opportunities for bands.

Mason concurs, “It was an intense time! We never forgot that There Were Wires began as fans of the bands that shaped us and held much of the early New England forefathers of chaotic hardcore/metal in high regard. Local bands like Converge, Cave In, and Isis were very influential to us. While personally I was obsessed with bands like Unbroken, Threadbare, and Kiss It Goodbye (I was not alone in this), we were never an overtly political band outside of some vegan/straightedge principles, and the vast majority of the lyrics were usually based in some level of social or personal critique.

"Sometimes, I’d simply pull phrases or text from books I liked. 'His Talk, Her Teeth.' for instance, was lovingly extracted from the book Geek Love by the late Katherine Dunn. More than anything, our goal was to be able to play as close to the crowd as possible without inciting/encouraging violent or overly aggressive behavior. We weren’t into the whole tough guy ‘crowd-killing’ garbage that came about later in hardcore. We really just wanted the kids to feel a part of what we were doing and come up and sing, dance, and freak out with us. And they did. My main job besides doing vocals was to keep the kids from falling into Ryan’s drum set whenever possible.” 

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

For Mason to look back on that period, and spawn the final testament of TWW’s voice, is an emotional and captivating moment. Somnambulists did have purpose and reason for five young men screaming at the world. “Collectively, we wanted to present a more mature incarnation of TWW that truly reflected our musical growth between recordings, which I think was accomplished even by the end of the first track, 'New Doom.' Personally, I wanted to write lyrics that were as somber, heavy, and hard-hitting as the music the dudes were creating, which was a big challenge for me.

"My lyrics steered inwards towards myself and my family, in some last-ditch effort to confront my own personal failures and dysfunctions, while shining a big white spotlight on the generational corrosion my extended family was suffering through. No part of it was easy for any of us. We had to fight back a lot of outside influences and distractions in order to prioritize the writing process, which I’m sure is the norm for many young bands trying to keep everything in their life afloat.” 

Photo collage: Erin McCown

THE REISSUE:

Mason admits always wanting to do this on vinyl: “Coming from the punk/hardcore scene, we all had crates upon crates of 7 inches and LPs taking up room in our apartments, but vinyl was becoming a nearly a dead format in 2003, at least for smaller bands that weren’t going to move thousands (or even hundreds) of units. I think we were just happy to have a somewhat polished-looking CD at that time, although as we all got older the sentiment among most of us was that we wished we had released a vinyl version, as well.”

And now, Tor Johnson and Iodine grant the wishes of many fans of this record. A gatefold embodies a stark expression of angst and rage resurrected after 18 years.

IODINE: “The idea to bring this project together originated with Paul (Dechichio) from Tor Johnson Records while he was working on a reissue for the Boston emo band Moment. Jaime from TWW was asked to do the liner notes for the record, which started talks for doing a reissue for TWW. Around the same time, I had started looking at bringing the label back and connected with Paul and we decided that working together would be a great way to help bring the label back. 

“It took almost three years to get everything together, as we really wanted to do it right and make it perfect. The first hurdle was finding the master tapes, which were completely lost to time. I connected with my old friend Alan Douches, who spent the better part of a year sorting through boxes of unmarked DATs and combing through a pre-historic iMac that was almost 20 years old attempting to find his original edits.

"Miraculously, Alan found the masters and was able to rework everything to bring a much richer and fuller sound to the recording. We were all blown away hearing it on wax for the first time, felt like a completely different album.”

Mason adds to the lore. “Sometime around late 2016, our friend and local DIY stalwart Paul contacted me to ask if I would write the liner notes for a discography LP of a band called Moment that we were all friends with back in Boston. During that process, he kind of hinted that he’d be interested in working with us on re-releasing some of our old records on LP, if we were interested. Our final record Somnambulists became the topic of the conversation, and we unanimously agreed that it would be cool to see it re-released on a timeless format.

"We contacted Casey to let him know about the project and get his blessing, and I think the opportunity for him to get back involved with Iodine Recordings and assist in the process was just too enticing for him to not jump in the pool with us. So, we put it out as a split release with the two labels, and we couldn't be happier with the end result. The scope of the project was so much bigger and more focused than we ever anticipated, and everyone had a part to play in making it a reality.

"The band handled all the artwork, layout and design elements of the actual release, while Casey and Paul went full force with promotion, pre-orders, and keeping us all on schedule. A lot of work for a nearly 20-year old record from a defunct hardcore punk band, but the response from fans was overwhelming. I think we sold out of pre-orders in less than two hours.” 

The execution of Somnambulists by a young group of dudes ready to redefine There Were Wires entered the studio. The lineup for Somnambulists was Mason on vocals/lyrics, Thomas Moses on guitars, Jebb Riley on bass/vocals, Ryan Begley on drums, and Don Belcastro on guitars/vocals. They were joined by Lori Murphy, adding vocals on “New Doom” and Merrick Jarmoulowicz on “His Talk, Her Teeth."

Mason explains, “The album was recorded by Matt Squire at Camp Street and Q Division studios in a little under a week in March of 2003 and mixed with Matt a week or two later. We were excited and a little nervous about being in more lavish studios than we had previously. But, we tried to have fun with it and not get so tightly wound that it affected our performance. I recall it being a really interesting experience, in that it was the first time I recall having directional assistance with the actual song structures.

"My memory is a little fuzzy on the entire process, but I remember Matt really helping us flesh out the two instrumentals ('Walking' and 'Waking') between 'Get Cryptic.' They were originally akin to quiet interludes that were reworked into these mammoth, glacier-crushing riffs with his help. We’ve worked with some awesome audio engineers prior to this record (Kurt Ballou of God City, Keith Suza of Machines With Magnets), but I was really impressed by the amount of care he took to make everything as close to perfect as we were capable of.

"From a band standpoint, I felt that everyone really rose to the occasion and performed really well, despite the pressure of being in higher budget studios and feeling at least a little bit intimidated by it all. It was also the first time I ever felt actually happy with how my vocals came out, which makes sense since I remember walking around with a thermos of tea the whole time after shredding my throat from the recording sessions.” 

Anyone nostalgic for hardcopies of albums, luring an audience digging through bins, knows that the visceral loss dictated by streaming’s prevalence (besides audio quality and volume) is the absence of art work. The instinct kicking in to buy a record which you’ve never heard based solely on a graphic or a font is no a lost impulse. The association with the sonic onslaught to what they band’s visual direction is to your mind, absorbing and wandering. Vinyl, of course, extrapolates this simply by the twelve-inch format and the pageantry which gatefold allows and displays. With a slue of variant colors encased in stark imagery and accompanied by a full size fold out lyrics sheet, Somnambulists in 2021 does not disappoint.

Casey Iodine, “From the beginning of the reissue taking shape, the band wanted to reimagine the artwork in a way that reflected the dark and somber feeling of the album. The band contacted their close friend Kelly McCown, who does unique and eerie pinhole photography in Spain, and asked her to capture some images inspired by the record. There is a reoccurring theme in the record of sleepwalking and dreaming, so the images complement that and set a dark and mysterious mood while listening to the album. We decided to make the layout as minimalistic as possible in order to focus on the imagery.”

He continues on the process and labor involved in the culminating reward. “Once things got moving in high gear, I reached out to a lot of my old industry friends and was humbled by the level of interest in this record. We were fortunate enough that a lot of distributors wanted an exclusive variant in their stores. There are a total of six color variations and black vinyl.

"Limited to One Records in New York City also took an exclusive on white vinyl with an alternative slipcase cover that includes a laser engraved image and 25 hand numbered editions. The other variants are: white vinyl w/ gold and black splatter (Iodine); clear vinyl w/ black and white splatter (Tor Johnson); silver and black pinwheel (Deathwish Inc.); white and black merge w/ rainbow splatter (band); gold (Revelation Records); and white vinyl (Wanna Hear it Records).

“For merch, we decided to do a small run of TWW t-shirts featuring artwork from the record. One featured the cover art and the other featured the ghost image used for the “His Talk, Her Teeth” single. The shirts were extremely popular during the pre-order and we almost completely sold out already.”

Mason adds his impression of this beautiful presentation. “Funny you mention it, I just received my copies in the mail today. I’m truly beyond stoked how it came out. I think this project was by far the most successful and well-executed release we’ve been part of. And it looks better than I imagined. We were extremely fortunate to be able to use Kelly McCown's (my partner, Erin’s sister) film photography for the entire layout, which worked perfectly for the mood we wanted to set. I think this was the first time that the entire band agreed on album imagery almost immediately, which is saying a lot.

"Jebb (Riley, bass/vocals) handled the vast majority of laying out the design of both the LP and the cassette tape. So, he is owed a huge amount of gratitude for all his hard work keeping everything on track and looking slick. Ryan (Begley, drums) designed much of the ‘Limited To One’ special edition packaging, and spent hours and hours learning to laser engrave skulls into archival paper, or something like that. Real high-end art shit that I know nothing about. Thomas (Moses, guitars) and I literally just sat back and sent ‘thumbs up’ emojis on all the art and layout updates.”

Photo: Aaron Pepelis

THE FUTURE:

Casey notes, “Initially, I was only intending to do reissues from the Iodine catalog and bands I’ve been friends with over the years. Although, after the overwhelming positive response about the label’s return, my vision for the label evolved. At first, I was shooting down new releases, but then I found myself in full on contract negotiations for new releases! We’ll be making some exciting announcements soon about new signings. Until then, people can be on the lookout for some more vinyl reissues of rare and unreleased material from Iodine’s family of bands, and a few others from the early ‘00s era.

“I imagine that the label’s operation will remain small for now, as we are all trying to balance life, families, other careers. Although, I hope that the label will continue to grow and that we can continue to release great music. I am humbled that there has been such an interest in the label, and it feels good to be back.”

Mason comments on There Were Wires impending reunions: “We’ve been talking about reunion shows for over a decade, but I think that if Covid didn’t happen we would already have a reunion/record release show booked for 2021. I think digging back into this stuff and listening to the remastered tracks, watching old live videos, and soaking up all the positive energy coming from old fans and friends has been invigorating.

"We’d almost certainly do any feasible live reunion in Boston, ideally someplace where we could play on the floor with the crowd and re-live it how we always used to. We haven’t discussed a lineup for the show, but I feel like we could pull together something pretty amazing. The ‘'90s hardcore sound’ has made a big resurgence as of late, and there are plenty of great bands that would fit the bill perfectly. But it would also be cool to do something with old band friends that are still active like Daughters, Converge, and Hesitation Wounds.

"Hopefully the world will get less stupid and we’ll actually be able to sit down and figure out a reunion show lineup before I’m 50.”

Somnambulists will be out this Friday (April 16th). Pick up a copy at Iodine, Tor Johnson, Deathwish Inc, RevHQand in Europe through Plastic Head and CoreTex.

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