Sean Ingram of Coalesce Talks ‘OX’
In 2001 Coalesce played a final show, but it wasn’t; it was just the end of a chapter. A new chapter for the band had began, marked by a plan to keep the chaotic hardcore beast of Coalesce alive by not using the band as a business venture to support everyone’s families but as an artistic outlet. “As soon as it’s looked at as income, or something we have to feed to keep going, it’s off the table for us again,” vocalist Sean Ingram told Noisecreep in an interview about their album ‘OX’ which comes out today.
‘OX’ is classic Coalesce, almost a throw back to their eleven years old ‘Give Them The Rope’ LP style of fuzz spit and odd tempo changes, but now bluesy riffs have been added in and a working man’s anger cracks the seams. ‘OX’ came out today but a little while ago Sean Ingram caught up with Noisecreep to talk record details, his lyric writing approach (‘Grain of Salt’ gets explained), how fans have helped pay for the record and why he’s bothered being seen as the angry, pissed off guy on stage.
Everyone in the band is married with kids right?
Yeah, all of us. Between us it’s 12 with one more on the way. Lots of kids, lots of rad kids. We could probably start our own progeny blues grass band with them.
Coalesce is not everyone’s full time job, what does everyone else do?
Oh yeah, Coalesce isn’t a job in any stretch of the imagination, this is just a really fun hobby for us. As soon as it’s looked at as income, or something we have to feed to keep going, it’s off the table for us again. That’s the rule. Either it’s art, or it’s not at all. I’m an owner/manager of a merchandise-printing firm, Nellis is a manger of a large whole foods grocery store, Jr. is a drum teacher, and Jes is a grad student in real life.
On the 0:12 album you wrote about many of the problems of the road and balancing family life with it. How does Coalesce do that balance now?
Well, I think it goes back to the art issue. If we have an opportunity to play live and not affect our families financially, then our families are gracious enough to let us experience it. The time is limited, so we have to plan carefully. Most of our time together is writing and recording as we are really in a creative groove right now. We did kinda break the rule and book a three-week tour, but it’s in Europe. I think our families are proud of what Coalesce is doing, and to get to go to Europe is a really big deal for us.
Is Coalesce an outlet, an escape, or just something for fun for everyone?
Yeah, it’s an outlet for creative energy, and a fun “boys night out” kinda road trip thing when we get the opportunity to play a show. We had to drive fourteen hours back from Scion Fest due to the plane situation, and it was seriously one of the most fun trips I’ve ever taken. It’s just something we all look forward to doing, and we’re old enough not to take the little things we get to experience when we do, for granted.
You guys paid for the recording of OX yourself how was that done?
We almost paid for all of it. We ended up taking a small advance from Relapse at the last minute to cover the extra time needed and the mastering and to offset the packaging. We paid for almost all of it with sales from our merch on Blue Collar Distro. Even if I wasn’t the owner, the company still pays out monthly and we try to tend to the store with what the fans are asking for. We aren’t much for salesmen, but this record definitely would not have happened like it did if nice folks didn’t buy stuff with rib cages and stuff on it from us. We seriously lucked out, because weeks in the studio are really expensive.
Is there a theme to the lyrics on OX?
The theme started out to be a commentary on commerce and our role in it, and how it destroys everything we hold of value. This was before the economic collapse. As the lyrics were written, and rewritten, and rewritten again, it ended up evolving into more of a commentary on the will, and it’s stubborn nature to change. The title OX was picked out before the lyrics were written, and it evolved into a metaphor for the will. Stubborn, strong, unrelenting.
OX features less distortion and even Jess playing blues riffs and singing. How did these changes come about? Did this new development come naturally?
There was definitely less distortion on the ‘Salt and Passage’ 7″, but Jes ended up experimenting with new distortion sounds on OX instead of less. The effort to do less distortion was abandoned on OX, and he tried his best to get the most interesting sounds that were called for each part. I know we own more pedals and equipment now than we’ve ever owned before, so it’s possible it evolved as one of those “all these wonderful toys” type of things.
The singing on the record, that was something that we knew we wanted to do on the “Wild Ox Moan” track, but the other two tracks we have it on, the parts just called for it we think. We were leery of adding singing, but in the end we just said, “f–k it, it’s what needs to be there”.
Over the years has your process for writing lyrics changed?
Yeah, I think so. I have more work in OX than on any past effort. In the past it was easy to pick something you can get pissed off about and draw from that. Mean lyrics sound tough screamed, which is why everyone does it. I didn’t want to do a new coalesce record if that’s how I had to work, but after so many records, I naturally fell back into that rut. I probably wrote three lyrics for every track on ox. Each time I would write them, then revisit them the next day. Every next day I would just be so bummed out with what I had. It wasn’t until a friend, in an unrelated conversation, illustrated that one could be honest with themselves and their faith, and not be ashamed, that it finally came together for me.
After that, I took a no holds barred look at myself, and what I’m doing in life and the pieces all fell into place quickly. This only happened one other time, ‘Grain of Salt.’ My father woke me up, beating me on my fresh appendix sutures in a drunken rage. I think it was because I mowed the lawn with a flat tire or something equally silly. I was in serious pain just having surgery, and was sitting there pretty bloody. That hurt and rage just poured out onto the paper that night, and I didn’t change a word. That song has always been the bar that I hold myself too. And that’s how OX kinda worked, but it wasn’t a rage situation, it was one more of desperation. That’s one thing that always bothers me when I read how the singer of Coalesce is so pissed off and so brutal. The truth is it’s coming from a sense of desperation. Like “listen to me, I know this is true!” type of place, not a “you are wrong, and this is why I hate you!” place.
What the hell is a ‘Wild Ox Moan’ and is the name of the album has anything to do with that song?
‘Wild Ox Moan’ is an old cowboy song. The guys were moving towards the old spaghetti western vibe, and the old Americana feeling it brought with it. When the songs started getting parts like that and morphing, Jes liked the idea of inserting an old western tune and rewriting it as a Coalesce song for consistency. I think it was a coincidence that it had the word ox in it. It was just a great cowboy song, so we treated it as such with some blues in it, then linked it to us. It was a way to put our identity on an American tradition of that song. As far as what it actually is, I don’t know personally what the author meant. The song didn’t make much sense to me other than an expression of “honey, I got to go”, and that the wild ox moan was some sort of metaphor for a call of nature of some sort. I treated it as such for the original part of the song and expanded it that way.
From what I can tell, each artist who takes that song completely rewrites it. I’ve heard it played four different ways, and not one of them is similar in any way. It’s really is a great song that lends itself to be rewritten by the artist to chooses to take it on. Kind of like a piece of American heritage that lives on through each generation that takes notice.
I know you are a big vinyl-packaging fan and Coalesce has always been about limited runs of varied colored LPs. What does the packaging for OX look like?
We put a lot of money and work into the packaging. I really didn’t think Relapse was going to go for it, but Matt Jacobson, the president, was really proactive about making it work. We are of the opinion that CDs are dead. We don’t really care if they make money or not. Their days are numbered, and we’d rather abandon it now and move on. But since this is Relapse’s record, and in the real world it isn’t abandoned yet, we knew that if we were going to do one, it had to be as artistic as we felt the recording on the CD was. I hired my favorite designer; Don Clark from Invisible Creature, who in my opinion dominates music packaging.
We worked together on the concept of the record and came up with the general design. Then it turned into embossing on the cover, silver ink, black chip board, spot gloss everywhere, and seven unique die cuts in the booklet. It took some negotiating, but Jacobson pulled through with us, and they believed in the music, and the design don did to make it a reality. That being said about the CD, we applied the same techniques to the LP. It’s a single 12″ in a gatefold, black chipboard packaging with spot gloss. It is a perfect companion to the CD. in short, it’s something you would expect from Hydrahead, and not necessarily Relapse.