No description of Staghorn is more appropriate than "fiercely independent."
Few bands come close to thier level of self-sufficiency, as their commintment to a do-it-yourself mentality in almost every aspect of life is unmatched. But despite the emphasis on autonomy, their message is ultimately one of unity, and the importance of developing strong communities in the face of deeply troubled and uncertain times. We sat down with them to discuss their decision to move to the C-U area, as well as some of the driving forces and philosophies behind the band.
Editor's Note: At the request of the artists in Staghorn, their names are listed as just their initial for artistic purposes.
Smile Politely: First off, congratulations on playing the FEST this year! Is this your first year playing it, or have you played before?
L: Thanks! We’re stoked!
Lx: This is the first year playing the FEST with Staghorn.
L: It’s a very bucket list-y thing for all three of us. I definitely had a thought of “I don’t want to go to Fest unless I’m playing it,” and I feel the same way about South by Southwest. I don’t want to go there as a civilian; I want to go there as a musician.
J: In contrast to that, I’ve been going since FEST 5, and it’s been a mainstay of my childhood, growing up in punk & hardcore. It’s been a huge influence on me, so it’s pretty amazing finally getting to play it. What’s kind of cool about us playing the Fest is that, musically, we are not a punk band by any means; this is probably why it took us so many emails and so many years to finally get accepted on the roster.
Lx: But neither are Thou or Circle Takes The Square.
L: It’s all things heavy, extensions of punk. I come from a solid punk background, and I consider what we’re doing just as punk rock as the Ramones or Lagwagon.
J: Yeah, the initiative of the band overall is punk, and that’s what I had to convince them of.
SP: For a while, the band had been based out of the St. Louis area. What was the motivation behind picking everything up & moving to C-U?
Lx: There were a few steps between St. Louis and here. Some things happened to me in St. Louis that I wasn’t thrilled about, and I felt very unsafe in the city. So that’s probably the main reason why we left.
J: It was definitely the number one reason.
Lx: I was sexually harassed, and it happened multiple times in a row. It got to the point where we were either going to move to a more suburban neighborhood, or move to a farm & start practicing an off-grid lifestyle; we chose the farm and built a shipping container house. We put an entire year & a half of our hard work into it. Unfortunately, the land owners where we were residing were not very keen with us growing food or practicing this lifestyle, so we got kicked out in the middle of winter. It forced us to pick a place to go.
During this time, we were in transition with drummers as well. We asked our good friend L to help, who answered with such an incredible response. He was extremely excited about our band & had been a fan of Staghorn from the get-go, so we decided to take him on, and write a record together. We were traveling 8 hours a week just to get this record done, and the travel time was killing J and I. So, instead of trying to fight the area we were living in, we decided to just pick up and move to Urbana because it made the most sense.
We love the city here. It’s perfect. We still have the ability to grow our food, we have the ability to live off grid, we have the ability to have our chickens. Hopefully the shipping container home will come with us one day; it’s sitting on the farm land. But I’m really happy to say we made a good decision moving here.
SP: In the New Noise interview that came out last year, you spoke extensively about the experience of living on a homestead. Is the plan to fully resume that lifestyle here in Urbana?
J: That interview happened right as we were starting the project, so this is the first interview post- all of that disintegrating! We’re still doing that now, luckily; Urbana afforded us that opportunity.
We moved on to a community farm where one of their main missions is practicing alternative living, alternative building, and organic farming. One of the main structures there is a bermed eco building that is three-quarters of the way underground: it’s got a living roof, and it’s bermed on two sides. It used to belong to a company called Micro Greens that went under a few years ago, so we’ve retrofitted a part of that building into both a living space and a space for our screen printing shop.
The building’s super efficient. Being that it’s underground, it’s heated with passive solar through the greenhouse. It uses thermal mass with concrete walls, with the insulation on the outside, so that the climate on the inside is really difficult to change. It requires low energy to heat & cool.
That’s where we’re living now. We’re very new there, so we’re going to keep expanding on the lifestyle there & work with what’s available there.
SP: How does this commitment to the DIY lifestyle inform how you operate as a band? Or does being in a band influence how you approach this lifestyle?
Lx: Staghorn has a comic book, and almost every single record that we will be releasing will have an issue of the comic that will go with it. It’s a post-apocalyptic setting; however, it portrays a lot of the sustainable lifestyle within it. In a way, we’re explaining it in a comic book form, but what we try to do is pull people in to the march table so we can have individual conversations with everyone. That can include explaining how we live, how they can live, herbalism, getting away from the pharmaceutical industry, growing your own vegetables, raising chickens… anything. I try to have as many conversations as I can for each show we play, no matter how big or small the shows may be. So that is a way that we can portray this message through the band.
L: In looping back to that comic and about the content of the albums themselves, it’s all about the social ills that are currently ramping up. It’s kind of like futurism: it’s trying to predict problems of the future.
Lx: Also set not too far in the future.
L: Right, very near-future content. All of that has to do with water scarcity, food scarcity, fascist control of these things.
Lx: The first comic, for instance, spoke about how we treat animals & how animals became sentient and fought back all the remaining humans. It was set quite far in the future, and there was a group of humans that were protected by deer. They were sent back in time to warn humans of what’s to come.
L: An extended metaphor for all the abuses that we’ve done to the animal kingdom.
J: Through all the ways that we live, the simple mission of the band is to portray a fictional story that, as L said, addresses a lot of social and ecological issues that are both happening before our eyes and trying to predict what is to come. What that does is that it allows people to see into a picture and create a dialogue, so that we can all address those problems. Through touring the first record, we really got that message across, and we were able to interact with a lot of people on the subjects that we were addressing.
SP: To expand on this discussion of the narrative elements of Staghorn: one especially notable difference between the upcoming album and the first is a much more prominent inclusion of a narrative arc. You’re doing things like introducing characters, and it feels much more like a story than the first. Is this something that came about during the writing process for the new album, or was a multi-album narrative arc planned from the start?
J: From those interactions I mentioned, they inspired me to just keep writing the story and introduce more drama. I wanted to make it more like a film or a book. The initial story was never really meant to become a story, just an introduction. It was an idea of a story that was added at the very last stage, literally in the last few hours of mixing that record. Since it was embraced wholly throughout our touring, I decided to do a record that pushed it all out there & made it a prominent feature of the music.
A note about this record too: it was actually supposed to be longer. But because we ran into so many complications with finding permanent members & trying to write this record, we really felt an urgency to get some new music out there. We really are passionate about touring and getting our message out there, and we felt we were kind of miring ourselves into a rut. So we decided to choose something that was more achievable, like an EP. The amount of narrative was actually supposed to be for a full length, and it ended up getting squashed into an EP. So that’s also why this is so heavy on the narrative elements.
SP: In addition to being much more compressed time-wise, the new record features vibraphones and synthesizers. How did adding new members and instruments change the writing process?
J: What it’s done is it’s made it a lot more fruitful at the end of the day. You have a lot more heads putting in their ideas, and new things blossomed I never thought would be created. The frameworks and the skeletons I wrote turned into something completely different that I never would’ve thought of, thanks to L & R joining the project. Lx took a huge step up in writing as well, and it really felt like a band wrote it, whereas the first record felt like only me writing it. It posed growing pains, but the benefits really outweighed it.
L: You have to find a language amongst members. Lx and J made it very apparent that they wanted my input & wanted my help to write and structure. We did have a few growing pains in trying to find that language, to try and explain what you’re trying to do vs. what J envisioned, or preconceived ideas. That back & forth is so fun, but also hurts. It’s a painful process.
J: But with all the right intents! The things that stuck are truly the best versions of what this album ended up being. We’ve been trying to write this record for about two years, and we’ve played it through two other drummers.
L: Yeah, it’s been a two year process for y’all. I get that anxiety or just wanting to finish the record & move on to something else.
Lx: We’re ready to write the next one!
J: The only part that was really hard was hashing out that part that had beed already worked and reworked so many times. Once we moved to completely new territory, it became much easier to work.
SP: What was the experience like recording at Earth Analog?
Lx: It was quite stressful, to be completely honest. We recorded everything live.
J: Recording live to tape is something we’ve never done before. Lx & I had recorded a lot before, but tracking everything live was completely new to us. It was a really challenging session; we only had three days to track this record & lay down perfect takes.
Lx: Our instruments posed a really difficult scenario for recording. The harmonium was interesting; it would be picked up by drum and room mics. Recording live is great for bass and drums, but I’m never doing it again with other instruments; it was too stressful. We got to a point where we said “oh shit, I don’t know if we’ll be able to finish this weekend.”
J: It was exhausting; when one person screws up, everyone has to start all over. But overall, it was a beautiful experience. I think we all came out better musicians and closer as a band. And Earth Analog itself is such a comfortable space to hang out & play music in. So, overall, great experience, just the task at hand was the most difficult and challenging part. It’s a short record in length, but it’s really dense in composition. We spent a lot of time crafting it to have all the dynamics of post-rock, without sounding like a post-rock band.
Creating a dynamic record where we’re going from dynamic balls-to-the-wall parts to the absolute quietest parts takes a physical toll too. Our adrenaline would go super high, so we’d have to take a 20 minute break just to bring ourselves down again.
Lx: That’s why, for the next record, maybe we’ll do live recording for just the bass and drums. Or just the parts that are applicable. But not all the instruments. We also learned how each one of us records, so it was definitely a really good learning experience.
L: The goal is to get better for the next recording session. It’ll always be difficult, and it’ll always be stressful, but with each recording session, you get better at it. I know I get better at it; I know what I want to hear. But of course you hit a wall; I’ve never had a recording session where someone didn’t hit a wall, feeling frustrated and crazy.
J: And then we came back the next day & did it in the second take.
Lx: Sleeping was so important too, and coming back well rested.
L: The main takeaway from this session was, just have shorter sessions. More days, shorter sessions.
J: We were a little overconfident. We rehearsed the hell out of it, and figured we could just come in like “yeah, let’s do this!”
L: But going from practices that are 3 or 4 hour sessions, to a 12 hour recording day. It’s like working a double shift versus working a single; singles are no big deal, but during that double you’ll lose your fucking mind. And all these bands are expected to do these all-day recording sessions, because that’s the time you have the engineer, you have the space for the day. And it’s so much more efficient to have more days & less time per day. I can’t stress that enough.
J: Definitely one of the most educational sessions I’ve ever been a part of.
SP: On your most recent tour, you brought Yndi Halda to the US, and you’re now playing s string of shows with them in the UK. How did a relationship with such a notable and influential band come about?
Scheurer: Yndi Halda is one of my favorite bands, and I try to keep up with bands I admire on social media. I saw that they were in the studio recording a new album. To me, that means “hey, they might be touring the US for the first time in ten years!” So I sent them an email saying I’m a fan, and simply asking if they’re coming to the US. They came back to me with a very approachable candor that, to me, seemed like it was opening a dialogue. So I opened up a dialogue with James, the main vocalist. It kind of became this thing where I offered him some of our resources; we have a screen printing shop, we have an amp company, and I would have been honored to help them out.
That became them wanting us to print shirts and rent our amps. And then that became “you guys can support us in the midwest.” And that became “OK, you’ll do the whole tour with us.” And that became “we’re gonna get in the van with you guys too.” And then that became nine people in a 15-person passenger van with the back two rows gone. And I tour managed the whole thing.
At one point, when I was talking with them, prior to us being officially signed on to support them in the US—
Lx: —We were actually sitting in our shipping container home. I was playing with my rooster, Buck-Buck, because he’s my friend, and he was sitting in my lap. J was sitting next to me, texting James back and forth.
J: And I took a picture of myself with the rooster saying “look, sign us on as support for this tour, and I will give you this here rooster.” That was the moment when he said “all right, you’re touring, let’s make this happen.”
It was a long, arduous process to get all the affairs in order. Unfortunately for bands coming to the US, it gets strenuous. It’s so expensive, which is why they’re going to be coming back. We became best of friends with them on that tour, and we’re going to be doing a bunch of touring with them. The first follow-up to that US tour will be us doing some exclusive dates in the UK with them. That’s kind of a big deal to them, since they so rarely play UK shows. They play festivals, but not specifically Yndi Halda shows, so it’s going to be really special.
We’re also booking a little two-week European tour beyond that. So it’ll overall be a 3-week tour, with some days off for funzies. Who wants to play on a Monday?
L: I prefer funzos.
J: Funzos? No funzies?
L: Funzies are for sellouts.
Staghorn will be releasing their follow-up to Parousia I / Kismet II on June 21st. The band’s music is available for streaming & purchase at their Bandcamp.
Both photos from Staghorn's Facebook page.