Chicago band hopes to make listeners anxious
There's a sense of anxiety that runs through the entirety of Deeper's self-titled debut, with frontman Nic Gohl singing about sinking further into debt, outside pressures crushing down with weighted force and feeling as though he's dangling helplessly from the end of a rope.
“I told you I have skin,” Gohl sings on “Transmogrified” before pivoting: “It's harsh and it cracks within.”
These internal pressures frequently bleed over into the instrumentation, with the Chicago-based musicians constructing songs from jittery guitar, skeletal drums and restless, bouncing bass. At times, the songs pick up so much momentum that it sounds as though the entire thing is just seconds from breaking apart, like an angry pressure cooker whose meter has risen perilously into the red.
“I hope people feel that [anxiety in the music],” said bassist and Marysville, Ohio, native Drew McBride, 29, who moved to Chicago in 2012 after graduating from Ohio State University. “We can build up [the music] to where it's almost overwhelming, and then drop down into something that's almost calm and relaxed, like that break in ‘Pink Showers,' which arrives right as it starts to get too overbearing. But that anxiety always comes crushing back, which is why the ending of that song is blown out, and the guitar is distorted a little more, and you can kind of feel all of that.”
According to McBride, these accumulated anxieties go hand-in-hand with life in the Windy City.
“It's funny, we all love Chicago so much, but there is an overbearing-ness to living in a large city sometimes,” he said. “Being in the hustle and grind … there are times you're recording and you get in the space and you're like, ‘Man, we've got to get something down that embodies this exhaustion or anxiety.' Sometimes we don't even realize we're feeling it. Right now, Nic's girlfriend, Natalie, she went to San Diego for a few days, and they've been talking while we're on tour, like, ‘I didn't realize how much stress the city can put on me until I got away.'”
At the same time there's never a sense of give amid the mounting turmoil, and songs are dotted with phrases such as “I stick around” and “I can try,” suggesting that even dangling from rope's end, there's an enduring belief they'll reclaim a grip and continue the climb.
“It's almost a perseverance, like you have to keep pushing on, no matter what,” McBride said. “Everyone has had anxiety before, and sitting with it is what makes it worse. Getting out there and working through it is really the only way to overcome it. … Some of the people who have written us up have been like, ‘Yeah, these Midwestern boys,' and it's like, what does that even mean? When someone from the East Coast writes, ‘These Midwestern boys,' what are they actually trying to say? And I think maybe it is this working-class sort of approach to things. … We all come from pretty middle-class backgrounds, and we're all just hustling and grinding to make this work.”
Deeper recorded its lean, angular debut, out now on Fire Talk records, over the course of 18 months, with many of the sessions taking place in its practice space — a converted factory in the west side Garfield Park neighborhood. The building, which McBride described as “the most unimpressive warehouse you could imagine” from the outside, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and long operated as the E-Z Polish Factory, where the company manufactured polish for shoes and stoves. More recently, the building has served as home to long-running Chicago bands such as Rise Against, which the Deeper bandmates discovered after researching graffiti spray painted on the walls of the room they share with fellow Chicago rockers Ne-Hi and Clearance.
“On one of the walls someone had graffitied, ‘Give up,' and on the other one, ‘Too old.' We were like, ‘Who did this?' So we looked it up and apparently it was Rise Against,” McBride said, and laughed. “We were like, ‘OK, we need to cover this up.' Maybe it was a way to get them psyched, or hyped up, but it was not quite our vibe. When you've been doing something for [a long time], maybe that's a good way to be like, ‘Yeah, let's keep doing this!' But when you're a little bit younger it's like, ‘Ah, man, I don't want to see “give up” on the wall. I'm just starting to get excited about doing this.'”
Before joining Deeper, which visits Spacebar for a concert on Thursday, May 31, McBride played in the dreamier, more shoegaze-oriented Landmarks. The gauzy musical style is also deeply familiar to his bandmates, and its influence can be heard in the album's softest song, “Pavement.” (Conversely, the hardest, most aggressive tune on the record is titled “Feels,” so feel free to insert something here about judging a book by its cover.)
“I think we all still really enjoy the dreamier music we used to write, so we wanted to pay homage to where we all came from,” McBride said of “Pavement,” which was the first song the band wrote after forming in 2014.
As with every other song in Deeper's growing catalog — McBride said the group has already written three-fourths of a new record — “Pavement” continued to change form all the way up until the moment the musicians set it to tape. In early live shows, the song morphed into a propulsive, Krautrock jam, which has since been replaced by a slower, gauzier outro better suited to its overall mood.
Coming into the band, the musicians knew they wanted to adopt a drier, more minimalist sound that focused on the guitar interplay between Gohl and childhood friend Mike Clawson (drummer Shiraz Bhatti completes the band's current lineup).
“Nic and Mike grew up together and have been playing guitar in various projects since they were in their early teens, and we knew we wanted to showcase that relationship,” said McBride of the guitars, which maintain an almost conversational tone throughout, often responding and reacting in the moment. “As you listen to the record, there are a lot of intertwining guitars, and I think you can only do something like that when you have a good relationship with someone and know their playing style really well.”
The pairing also allowed McBride, who started playing guitar at age 13, to pick up a bass for the first time, which has given him a different perspective on making music outside of that lead guitar spotlight.
“Playing bass, you really are focused on the drums and making sure you're setting up a good foundation [for the songs],” McBride said. “I'm more comfortable now being in the mix and not the center of attention.”