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The prodigal return of Glassjaw

As the post-hardcore icons release Material Control, their first album in 15 years, we speak to Daryl Palumbo and Justin Beck about hitting the reset button

It took a month of Sundays for Glassjaw’s third full-length to emerge – quite literally. Holed up in a freezing cold factory space on New York’s Staten Island in the winter of 2014, the iconic post-hardcore group’s sole consistent members – frontman Daryl Palumbo and guitarist Justin Beck – used sabbath days as downtime from their increasingly hectic daily lives, snatching hours here and there. Free to bounce ideas as loudly as possible around the empty industrial space, they began to piece together a record many thought would never emerge.

It’d be easy to assume that Material Control, the Long Island band’s first LP in 15 years, has been agonised over for that full decade and a half. It finally arrives this week, after an interim period of equal length to Guns N’ Roses’ infamous ‘lost album’ Chinese Democracy, with a near-lifetime’s worth of expectation resting heavy on its shoulders. Palumbo and Beck are quick to quash the idea that this record is something that’s been tinkered with and tweaked beyond all recognition, though: “It was probably a total of one month of consolidated work hours, and hyper-focusing on something,” Beck says today, looking back over those not-so-lazy Sunday afternoons.

Worship & Tribute, Glassjaw’s last full-length offering, is still held up as an all-time genre classic. Released back in July 2002, its fusion of jazz and ambience to post-hardcore fury took the Long Island punk scene global with Glassjaw at its helm, while tracks like “Tip Your Bartender” and “Cosmopolitan Bloodloss” became mainstays of the MTV2 era. It was a period that quickly became fraught for the band though, most notably as a result of Palumbo’s longstanding issues with Crohn’s disease. Tours were cancelled, rescheduled, then cancelled again due to hospitalisation, as the mythology around the band only grew. Glassjaw became modern icons of the rock world, all while recoiling to nurse their wounds. Attempts to foster a follow-up were quickly shelved – a brief hiatus to focus on Palumbo’s pop project Head Automatica followed.

Teasers and hints began to drop as to when a third album may appear – from percentages of completion given out sparingly in interviews, to bizarre, cryptic clues uploaded to their website. Glassjaw kept playing shows – in July 2007, they returned to the UK for two nights in London. Fans felt certain it was the engines starting up for LP3, only for the group to slink back into the shadows. In 2008, a minute-long drum loop was uploaded to their MySpace page, with the title “It’s A Fucking Intro You Asshole”, purportedly taken from the album Don’t Ask Me, due for release in 2022. The frustration on both sides was palpable.

2010 was a turning point. Releasing a crumb trail of singles via fan mailouts and on limited edition vinyl, for sale solely via their merch desk at shows, Glassjaw later compiled them for the Our Colour Green EP – their first new material release in nearly a decade. The following year, another EP followed: Colouring Book. The wheels were turning once more. November 2014 saw them offer up a new discount code for the Glassjaw online merch store: “weactuallyjuststartedwriting”. The factory was open for business.

Today, the pair insist that they never went away – you just weren’t looking hard enough. After Worship & Tribute (their first, and only, major label release) nearly drove them to burnout, they simply took a step back from the rigmarole of a constantly churning album release schedule. “I’m sure a lot of bands would be a lot better if they stepped back from that,” Palumbo says with a snigger. “It’s definitely a cycle you get forced into. We definitely benefitted from not having to be a part of that.” he says, sounding surprisingly world-weary for a man who’s not had to deal with the ‘music biz’ for half his professional life.

“In the last 15 years, we always ended up playing more shows than we wanted to, we always put out some sort of product, tonnes of merchandise, a lot of songs, released a bunch of different ways. I do think there is this weird barometer, where people need to see this collection of at least eight, nine, ten songs together to kind of feel like you weren’t teasing them. Teasing? Not teasing at all! I felt like we were doing too much half the goddamn time.”

“We did everything ourselves that entire time, so there was constantly work going on,” he continues. Indeed, once Glassjaw relinquished control, it all went pear-shaped, with Amazon accidentally leaking details Material Control’s release earlier this month, scuppering their plans for a surprise return. “A lot of bands kinda leave that stuff to managers, and labels, and whatnot; we just did everything ourselves. It takes a little more time that way too... but it’s felt pretty non-stop, the last fifteen years,”  he peels off, another stifled laugh peppering his words.

If anything, the constant clamouring for another full-length from their fans left Glassjaw somewhat perplexed. ”What’s interesting is in this day and age,” says Beck, “everybody’s consuming everything a la carte. Whether young kids, people our age, or older, everybody’s consuming onesie-twosies, so all of a sudden when the public is giving you shit because you didn’t put a full-length out, it’s kinda ironic, because most people aren’t consuming in a full-length manner. It’s funny that the public is conditioned to speak on behalf of a full-length, when it’s such an antiquated process. But they’re still yearning.”

They’re in a unique position to be commenting on the music industry’s weird new guise – when Glassjaw last released an album, the iPod was still in its infancy. “Everything is just much more indie,” says Beck of music in 2017, “You’re in a tight flannel shirt and you’re playing obscure indie rock shit, or you’re wearing a fucking leather cape and you have an organ and you’re singing about eating a dead goat. I don’t know where we live in the cross-section of it all.” But much as they lament the demise of that Long Island scene they once were a part of, they’re keen to look forward, not back.

Recent conversations around that scene – the same one that spawned the likes of Brand New – have focused on the less-than-savoury depiction of women in ‘third-wave emo’, the likes of Glassjaw’s “Lovebites and Razorlines” demanding his muse “just suck on the end of this dick that cums lead”. Palumbo is solemn in his denouncing of much of his early, violently lovelorn lyricism, written in the midst of his teenage years. “I was a wild, selfish only child, who probably needed love and attention, so I was constantly dealing with things relating to girls and women in my life,” he says. “I was just so young that I can hardly take seriously the things that I would even think at that time about women – I didn’t know anything about women; I don’t think I knew anything about men.”

“I don’t think I did the best job of explaining any of it, and I think I was really immature in the way I put it forward, and I apologise for that. I’m glad I could get past obsessing over a woman or a girl who was just another growing up teen, and when I could get past obsessing over them as an object… those are things that I did that I’m not proud of. I’m not proud of that. But I am proud to now be a 38-year-old man that can see those things. But I’m more focussed on the progress in life than dwelling on these small, small things that were easy to get obsessed over.”

“I’m glad I could get past obsessing over a woman as an object... those are things that I did that I’m not proud of. But I am proud to now be a 38-year-old man that can see those things” – Daryl Palumbo, Glassjaw

Musically, too, they insist that their first two records were muddied by those youthful, obsessive tendencies. Beck compares the process to a young kid going HAM at a salad bar – “going buck wild with all the dressings!” – as they were fearful to turn down any opportunity thrown their way. As a guitarist, he built Glassjaw’s sound on a two pedal, no effect set-up. “And then all of a sudden it’s, ‘You don’t wanna mess around with these eight million pedals? You’re cheating yourself if you don’t leverage them!’” he says. “You’re like, ‘Yeah, sure! Let’s fuck around with this wacky phaser and this tremolo and these 90 other things.’ And you know what? We’re not fuckin’ Radiohead, and it wasn’t necessary. Again – we put too much dressing on the record.”

Daryl agrees. “There’s a lot of youthful, theatrical over-singing, over-playing; a melody where it doesn’t need to be there (on the first two records). When you’re too young to understand your musical vocabulary and references, it just sounds like a fuckin’ big melange of craziness... a big salad... a fuckin’ giant Jackson Pollock of a salad!” he shouts with a laugh.

All of which seems to suggest Material Control is more of a blank canvas for Glassjaw than the years of expectation would have you expect. The gun/dick metaphors are replaced with images of those who “find superstition down the barrel of a gun” (“Pompeii”), as Palumbo’s new grown man mindset looks outwards like never before. “There’s a lot of… I don’t wanna say political stuff, going on, but there’s a lot going on in the world around us right now, right?” he offers, semi-evasively. “A lot of the obvious things. We live in a country where there’s tonnes of things going on every day; a lot of funny things coming out of our President’s mouth every day. A lot of people in certain parts of the country we live in have an agenda, and wanna streamline living into a certain picturesque way that certain people, certain demographics in our country live.”

Religious imagery sits heavy across all Material Control’s social and political observations, from “Pompeii”’s lashing out at the “God delusion”, to “Closer”’s frenzied screams of “dead silent / heaven sent”, painting a picture of a world gone mad under the weight of its own ideologies. “There’s a lot of people in certain pockets of America who wanna streamline the way you approach your life, or the way a woman might approach her life,” Palumbo continues. “What means the most? The sanctity of an unborn child? Those are the things that fuel us, creatively, at this point. Our families – how does living in 2017 in America affect your family?”

If these sound like heavy topics for a band who made their name screaming about ex-girlfriends, it’s nothing compared to the sonic heaviness Beck and drafted-in Dillinger Escape Plan drummer Billy Rymer muster. With that dressing scraped off, “Golgotha” (named after the spot where Jesus was reportedly crucified), is a hulking, industrial slab of noise, whereas “Bibleland” sounds more like a hellscape. Beck explains that they’ve taken things back to where they started – without a big-name producer to try and impress, they’ve been freed up to focus on creating a “gully, New York post-hardcore record” like never before.

“Glassjaw, she gave us a goal, and there was a lifestyle,” Beck continues, referencing their desire to adhere to Glassjaw’s streetwise post-hardcore purpose. “She speaks to both of us and says, ‘This is what I need both you guys to give me to make this thing work.’ In the past, when we’ve done it in our younger, more formative years, I don’t think we understood it as much. I don’t think we’ve evolved, as much as possibly become more conscious of what the original goal should have been. If there was a goal, or if there was something to prove, it was probably proving to our younger selves that, ‘Hey assholes, this is how it should have been.’ If it was to prove anything, it was to prove to our younger selves that we were doing it wrong.”

Fifteen years on, Glassjaw are revamped. With the spectre of that “unfinished album” finally exorcised, they’re relieved to have full jurisdiction over their path once more. “We do like controlling everything,” Palumbo concludes with a laugh. “From how much you see us, to how much you hear us, to when we show up at your town. Hey – maybe we control it so good that nobody thought we did anything for 15 years! See how good we are at controlling it?”