Healing Pendulum: A conversation with Adam McGrath and Stephen Brodsky of Cave In
Not all bands survive after the untimely passing of one or more of its members. With long years lived alongside one another, most can’t bear the sight of a friend forever missing and decide to cease activities, which, as unfortunate as it is, is a completely understadable course of action. However, there are those who adopt a different path, rise up to the occasion and use the band as a vessel to honour the life and continue the legacy of their fallen comrade or comrades. Cave In are an example of the latter. After the release of Final Transmission, which featured the final recordings performed by the late Caleb Scofield, and the subsequent benefit shows that helped raise money for the Scofield family, no one really expected the band to continue. It felt like a farewell, a sorrowful goodbye to a band that innovated so much during its tenure. But as fate, and maybe luck, would have it, the band would decide to carry on the legacy of Caleb, all the while expanding the sound of Cave In into new horizons. The result is Heavy Pendulum, a massive, forward-thinking and visceral new record that joins the trio of Adam McGrath, Stephen Brodsky and John-Robert “JR” Conners with the incredibly talented Nate Newton (Converge, Old Man Gloom), and takes them on an emotional journey through the history of Cave In and beyond, giving us a beautiful peek at a band that still has so much to give.
Heavy Pendulum is coming out this Friday, May 20th, via Relapse Records and, in lue of this exciting release, we had a chance to speak with both Adam McGrath and Stephen Brodsky about the mindset of Cave In going into a new record, the healing effect they felt during its recording and what the future of the band looks like after its release.
Coming out of the untimely passing of Caleb Scofield and the release of Final Transmission, how was the mindset like for the band going into a new record, both in a creative and personal level?
Adam McGrath: I would say the mindset coming out of Final Transmission, doing those benefit shows and the tours we did for Final Transmission, I think we were right to do some new music. And also, putting the wheels back on Cave In to do those benefits and to tour with Final Transmission and to finish that record, it seemed foolish to just abandon Cave In after all the work we did to put the band back together. So, I think after all the work we did, after rebuilding the band after Final Transmission and then also going into the pandemic, with very uncertain times; all of us being local, it became a time for Cave In to work on a new record. We didn’t have anything really interrupted by the pandemic per se; it was really a time for us to work and make a new record. So, it kind of worked out okay for us. Like I said, it seemed foolish for us to throw away the band after we put the wheels back on it for 2018 and 2019 to do all those benefits. We just kind of rolled forward, and also having Nate [Newton] along, it gave us the fire to really move forward.
“Putting the wheels back on Cave In to do those benefits and to tour with Final Transmission and to finish that record, it seemed foolish to just abandon Cave In after all the work we did to put the band back together.”
Going into your new record, can you tell me a little about the creative process behind Heavy Pendulum? What were some things you guys wanted to do and achieve with this new record that you hadn’t before?
Stephen Brodsky: Well, to kind of expand upon what Adam was saying, when we made Final Transmission, the process started with Caleb actually having a general outline of what he thought would be a good trajectory creatively for the band to follow. And so, what you’re hearing on Final Transmission, is sort of the start of that. And one of the things he was pretty specific about was wanting the band to record in a proper studio, which we hadn’t done in quite some time until that point. That was one of the many reasons why we wanted to continue doing the band, not wanting to end with Final Transmission as our final statement creatively, you know? We felt like there was more to be explored and expressed, just given that trajectory that Caleb had outlined. You know, very early on that was sort of the vibe and then going into the pandemic, like Adam said, everyone’s calendars were just wiped cleaned; nobody had anything going on. We were all scared shitless. So, it was actually a really good creative opportunity having just toured on Final Transmission, we had all this steam from the road and it was a good time to switch gears and start writing without any interruptions, really. And getting together and writing music was actually very comforting in what was a very frightening time. All of that just kind of laid the foundation for the creative process.
As mentioned previously, Heavy Pendulum is Cave In’s first record to feature Nate Newton in the studio. What do you feel where some of his major contributions to the record from a creative and writing perspective?
AM: I think Nate is really good at quality control and really good at song editing. I think myself, Steve and JR [Conners] have a good grasp on that, but I think Nate was really good at helping us map out songs and shaping songs. I also think as far as vocally, he brought a whole new level of dynamic to the band; between myself, Steve and Nate now, we can do things we never really done before as far as three-way harmonies and thing’s we never tried before and that Nate was up for. Because he has learned all those songs when we were doing the benefits – he learned a pretty hefty amount of Cave In songs in a short period of time -, I feel he brings to the band… You know, he knows what Caleb did and is kind of still bringing that, but he is also bringing his own twists, almost inspired by Tony Bono and Into Another. I love it, I really love the flavours that he brings. He also kind of has an older brother vibe; he is a little bit older than us, so he kind of keeps us in check, he reigns us in. You know, I’m sure if Nate wasn’t here, we would have a full-on grunge record, but Nate’s here to reign us in a little a bit, to be like, “we shouldn’t do an entire grunge record”. [laughs]
SB: Yeah, Nate was really engaged in the process of writing new Cave In stuff. I think he was excited to maybe explore some things that he doesn’t normally get to do with his other bands; with melodic singing, in particular. You know, most of his vocals in Old Man Gloom and Converge always have a rough edge to them or an aggression, so he was able to step outside a little bit with Cave In and sort of explore a softer side to his vocals, and I know that was very rewarding for him and for us as well. And having been in a band with Caleb, you know, having done Old Man Gloom with Caleb for many years, I feel like he knew the best way to honour what Caleb had already laid out and, like Adam said, to expand upon that. That was really important to us, given that Nate and Caleb were as close as any of us were to Caleb, you know? It just made moving forward make a lot more sense than it would have with anybody else, really.
AM: He is also, and he’ll say this, he was a fan of our band before he was in our band. So, he would say, “this is what I want to hear from a Cave In record, this what I want from a Cave In record as a fan of your band”, which was a different dynamic that we’ve had. So, it was really cool to have him along and still have him along, obviously.
While listening to Heavy Pendulum, one does feel that Caleb’s spirit is still very much present in Cave In’s sound. Do you feel that releasing this record, as well as Final Transmission before it, has helped in the grieving and healing process of the band in some ways?
SB: Absolutely, I think just staying connected to anything music-related with Caleb is very healthy for us because that really is some of the best of Caleb. He has made such remarkable contributions to, not just our world of music, but I’d say to the world of heavy music in general, with his songwriting, his lyrics, his voice and his vibe. So, sharing that with somebody for nineteen years in the same band, moving forward, it’s just natural that we’re going to take some of that with us along the way, into the future. And we’re better off for it; we’re making better records for it and we’re better people because of it. It’s our gift and Cave In is now a vehicle to just celebrate those things and to celebrate his life. If people can pick up on that with Heavy Pendulum then that’s very cool and that is certainly by design.
AM: We learned so much from him, he will always be an influence on us. When we write songs, we think about what he would do, what he would like or what he wouldn’t like. And we’re also just talking about the memories we’ve had with him; it’s fun to remember Caleb with your friends who knew him. We all knew him well, we all had our own relationships with him, so it’s fun to be together when we’ve talked to him and had laughs together about him because we can put our memories together and form quite a funny image of our past together. It’s a great fun way for us to be together. And I didn’t realize what was happening, but I know now, two years later, Cave In is what healed me through that process. I didn’t even realize it then but being with my friends and putting the wheels back on Cave In is what got me through, you know? And I think it helped all of us.
“I think just staying connected to anything music-related with Caleb is very healthy for us because that really is some of the best of Caleb. (…) It’s our gift and Cave In is now a vehicle to just celebrate those things and to celebrate his life.”
This is also Cave In’s first record with Kurt Ballou since your debut Until Your Heart Stops. How was it working with Kurt after so many years and what do you feel he brings to the table in terms of recording and production?
AM: We’ve all separately worked with Kurt in our other bands; I did a Clouds record with Kurt, JR with Doomriders and Steve with Mutoid Man. So, we’ve all separately worked with Kurt, but never actually with Cave In. It was good to get back in there with Kurt, it really was. I mean, I think we were on a good place post pandemic to work together with our friends and make the best record possible. I think Kurt knew what was at stake; I think he knew we wanted to make a great record and that it would be our first without Caleb. We have a vibe with each other, just knowing each other since high school, so we definitely work really well together. It’s amazing to watch your friends from where they started to where they are now. He is an amazing producer and he is an amazing mixer. And while we were making the record, we would listen to the playbacks in GodCity [Studio] and I would say to all the guys while it was happening, like, “I haven’t heard Cave In sound like this in over ten years, I can’t believe how good it sounds”, and it was invigorating. I felt like he was really engaged and I felt like he really helped us make the record we were trying to make, and I’m happy we did it with Kurt. You know, we also made a new video on his studio recently, I’m thankful that he let us do that, as well. It’s really good to be still connected to the community you’ve been connected to since you were in high school, you know?
SB: Yeah, Kurt was super engaged with this one. Kind of an interesting set of circumstances too; when Cave In made Until Your Heart Stops, Caleb had just joined the band. And here we are, several years later, making Heavy Pendulum with Nate fresh in the band. As a producer, he had some great ideas to shape the songs. Like Adam said, we have sort of a language together, being that we’ve all been in each other’s lives since high school. So, when you have a language together that you can use creatively, things just go more quickly. There wasn’t really much time wasted on figuring out how to get on the same page. We were also very meticulous about making demos ahead of time and I think Kurt was excited about that, he knew that we were putting in the work. Unfortunately, that is not always the case for him; I think that just comes with the territory of, you know, someone running a studio and being a producer. But we were on top of our shit, we combed over things multiple times just to get songs to where we felt they needed to be. And he saw that we were doing the work, and he matched it with his abilities, his focus and his engagement. So, the whole thing was just a really potent recipe and I think it really shows.
The artwork of Heavy Pendulum was done by Richey Beckett. When choosing a cover for this record, did you select it from existing works that Beckett had or did you commission the piece?
AM: Oh, that’s a good story! We were supposed to play some shows at Saint Vitus [Bar, in Brooklyn] before the pandemic hit and Richey was like, “oh, I’ll put a poster together for your shows”, you know? And he was like, “here’s what I’m working on for the Saint Vitus shows”, and we all said, “yeah, that should be an album cover”. [laughs] And we literally had that before we wrote any songs for Heavy Pendulum, so it was like, “there’s our album cover, cool, we all agree upon it”. And that’s the other thing, the four of us are very different and the four of us agreed upon it unanimously. So, it was like, “well, let’s not change that, we’re going to move forward with that and we have to make a record that is as good as the artwork”. [laughs]
That being said, do you always seek to create that connection between the cover of a record and the music within it?
SB: I mean, again, this was a unique circumstance where we had the artwork for an album before we had written a single piece of music together for it. So, it created this barometer of quality, like, if a riff or song or an idea wasn’t as epic as what we were seeing in this fucking planet Saturn crashing into a crimson sea, then it wasn’t good enough. [laughs] Unfortunately, artwork in the past has been more of an afterthought for us. Not to say that we phoned it in because most of our artwork has been done by two great artists, Jacob Bannon and Aaron Turner. But it usually comes much later in the process, you know? We’ll be mastering a record and plotting the release date, and then going, “oh shit, wait, we actually need artwork for this thing”. [laughs] But given that this was a rare circumstance of having the artwork in advance, it certainly made us see and hear things a little differently, which was pretty cool.
Before the release of Heavy Pendulum, the band signed a deal with Relapse Records. What prompted this shift from Hydra Head into a new record label?
AM: Well, Hydra Head doesn’t exist anymore, so we were looking for a new label anyways. [laughs] And it was just kind of like, we started looking around and people at Relapse had worked on Final Transmission press, so they kind of knew we were looking for a label. So, they were one of the first labels to approach us. We talked to other labels, but Relapse seemed to make the most sense, in that it was an East Coast label and we knew that people who worked at Relapse knew what Cave In was about, just because we had played so many shows in the East Coast the past twenty years. Anyone who works at Relapse, I’m assuming that, even if they don’t like us, has probably seen Cave In play. So, it seemed to make the most sense and they were really genuinely stoked, it seemed like a really good match.
What does the future look like for Cave In going forward? Any touring plans in the works?
SB: Yeah, we have some stuff that we’re trying to get together, just tightening up certain details in preparation for making announcements and such. We’re excited to take this stuff out on the road, hear what it sounds like on a stage and see people’s reaction to it. You know, all this material, by design, is stuff that we can play from start to finish; none of these songs are “studio creations”, so that’s pretty exciting. Beyond that, it’s kind of hard to say. Personally, I’m just enjoying this rare moment or this fleeting moment of time where the record is still kind of ours, you know, where it hasn’t really made its way fully out into the world yet. And it’s been a long time since we’ve had an album roll out like this. Obviously, with Final Transmission, we wanted to get the word out about that record as much as possible, but the circumstances were different and we were also not spending as much of our resources, monetarily speaking, because the idea of that record was to generate money for the Scofield family. But with this record, we’re about to make our fourth video for it… [laughs] It’s crazy, prior to this little creative spurt of making videos, we hadn’t done a proper Cave In video in almost twenty years. So, that’s been really fun, just getting in the mindset of creating visuals for this band, and taking a step out of just writing music and putting our minds into a different sort of creative space. And I’m just enjoying it, you know? I really am and I’m just trying to take it all in for what it is and not try to think too far ahead of that.
“We’re excited to take this stuff out on the road, hear what it sounds like on a stage and see people’s reaction to it. (…) All this material, by design, is stuff that we can play from start to finish; none of these songs are “studio creations”, so that’s pretty exciting.”
Interview by Filipe Silva
Photo by Jay Zucco, courtesy of Cave In