An interview with Chicago/NYC deathrock band Cemetery
by Oliver Sheppard
Cemetery‘s cassette demo in 2011 was a welcome and gloomy surprise from Chicago that I first wrote about for CVLT Nation in March, 2012. Although the band have produced at least an LP’s worth of material – and are planning to release it soon, as they detail below – since the demo, and have played out on the East Coast and elsewhere, it’s hard to find info on the mysterious group. As one of the better-sounding bands that are part of the new revivalist deathrock and goth-punk movement that includes bands like Lost Tribe, The Spectres, Deathcharge, Arctic Flowers, Crimson Scarlet, Belgrado, and others, the creepy, Christian Death-sounding quartet have slowly been amassing followers due to word of mouth praise and dubbed circulation of their cassette.
I interviewed singer Danny and guitarist Desmond below to find out what bands have inspired them and what they’re currently working on.
Cemetery were interviewed by Oliver in November, 2013
Q: For those who may be reading about you for the first time now, can you give a brief rundown of Cemetery’s history, home town, and who is currently in the band?
Danny: Cemetery started in a basement on the Southside of Chicago in October of 2010, initially with three members. After adding Casey Spaz O’Brien as our bassist we recorded our demo in the summer of 2011 and did a small tour out east. After going through one drummer and two bassists the most recent line up was Des on Guitar, Sam on Bass, Ian on Drums, and me, Danny, on Vocals. We recorded a lot of stuff and have played a lot of great shows but recently I have moved to NYC.
Q: Your 2011 demo got a lot of attention (well, at least among my friends it did) — it had a very “back to the roots” deathrock/gothic punk sound, a very serious and well-made set of recordings. Was there a certain goal you had for the sound, a certain agenda in what you wanted to sound like, and if so, what was that?
Danny: I think at the time that we started playing the whole Goth-Punk thing was still very much more geared toward the Punk side of it, like there were bands out at the time made of some talented musicians who were doing a Punk band that was influenced by a very particular strain of Gothic Rock and Anarcho Peace Punk. I think that we were Punks who were solely interested in just it being a “Goth-Goth” band as opposed to a “Goth-influenced punk band.” Whether or not it can be agreed that that’s the final sound I think you can still hear that those were our intentions. I’d also like to say that Des and I had a very particular interest in it somehow being a pop group in certain songs, or that it could be something that we would eventually meld into that. When I heard a gothed-out “17 Years of hell” by Blessure Grave back in early 2010, that was hugely inspiring – like a final “What the fuck am I waiting for, we gotta fucking do this.”
Dez: One thing I’ve found about being in bands is that you can have a certain sound in your head and a certain sound when you play live, but when you record, the songs can come out totally different. That did not happen with the demo songs; they came out exactly as I had hoped. I wanted atmosphere and I got atmosphere. I wanted haunted and I got haunted. Music is very intimate and personal for me, and sometimes like therapy. If other people can relate to what we say or are moved by the sound we make then I’ve done what I set out to. I’ll admit I wanted it to sound like it was from the 80’s, because that’s the stuff that really gets to me.
Q: The obvious set of influences that come to mind are old Southern California deathrock like Christian Death, Kommunity FK, and bands like that. (Maybe even some Saccharine Trust a la “Human Certainty,” too….) Are these bands that served as guideposts? What are your influences and favorite bands that served as inspiration for the sound you all were trying to create?
Danny: Definitely the Virgin Prunes and The Chameleons. The bond that Des and I had through music was certainly bonded by our growing up being huge fans of the typical assortment of genre records (Sisters, Xymox, DM, etc.) but we also shared a profound love for The Smiths, and as I said earlier a very particular type of pop — stuff like A Flock Of Seagulls, OMD and Human League. I would actually say A Flock Of Seagulls served to be a really inspirational point of reference for us and we both could cite them a lot referring to some choices that we made.
Dez: Early Christian Death really had an influence on me for the demo, and I love Rikk Agnew’s guitar on the first album, but I also really enjoy a lot of the mid 80’s and early 90’s stuff too. Early Sisters are a big influence on my guitar playing. Hussey, Marx and Adams were so good together. I can’t neglect to mention the March Violets’ influence, either. For the demo I wasn’t trying to make it too complicated, because we were still feeling out the band chemistry. I only used distortion and reverb on the demo, that’s it. I just made sure to do several guitar tracks and it created effects that I didn’t intend but they worked out great. Danny and I were talking about the band once and he said outright “I want to sound like the Human League” and I thought “FUCK THE HUMAN LEAGUE,” then immediately went and got inspiration from A Flock of Seagulls. “Sexfoil” is my impression of what a gothic A Flock of Seagulls would sound like.
For the record, I don’t hate the Human League. You need catchy melody to make a song memorable, and no one does it better than 80’s UK pop bands. I have to say that Deathcharge’s “Hangman/New Dark Age” single was my favorite record of the 2000’s. Punk has obviously had just as much of an influence as goth has on Cemetery. It’s hard to speak for Spaz and Mike, but I can say that they wanted to incorporate the sound of bands like Crisis and Warsaw. I hear it. Danny was really pushing for pop music, the other guys wanted punk-punk-punk, and I wanted it to sound miserable. I’m happy with the result of all of our recordings. Angst you can dance to.
Q: What’s the status of Cemetery now? Is it still a Chicago band? Is it an NYC band? Is it on hiatus?
Danny: With me moving to NY, it’s complicated things a bit but we are talking about something coming up in the future. I don’t know how to really answer this question that well without making any false promises of anything.
Dez: We’re still a band. We’re more of a Chicago band, only because we’ve played most of our shows here. We just don’t play shows much anymore. We’re working on that, though. I also don’t want to make promises we don’t keep.
Q: Are there any Cemetery recordings in the works? Any plans to play out any more or come back with a new release of any kind?
Danny: We’ve got a new LP’s worth of material that’s been in the process of mastering and rights and all the other shit that can get in the way of just putting the fucking thing out. But there’s two releases coming out. And yes – I do still have intentions of somehow working on more tracks! Right now I’ve been settling into NY and working on work as well as working on other music that’s not necessarily the same sound as Cemetery!
Dez: We’ve recorded about 7 times since the demo sessions. Four of those were only for one track each, one session wasn’t finished and I assume scrapped. There’s ten tracks that aren’t really circulating, but there are plans to put them all on vinyl within the next year.
There is an LP with songs from 2011 coming out on Mass Media records. 5 of the 6 demo tracks and 2 other songs are on it. I got the test press in the mail recently so it should be released soon. That new LP Danny is talking about is 9 tracks, at least 30 minutes of physically unreleased songs. Inflammable Material records in the UK wants to split the release with a North American label if anyone reading is interested. Seriously, get in touch.
Q: A lot of newer bands like Lost Tribe or The Spectres prefer to call their sound “dark punk.” Is that something you all feel fits your sound more accurately than anything else? Do you all consider yourselves to be a punk band, and if so, what does “punk” mean to you in 2013?
Danny: I think every fucker who’s ever been in our fucking line-up knows that I fucking hate the term “Dark Punk” because to me that sounds like something repetitive. “Punk” to me should already be really fucking dark. Before I was into “Punk” I was really into the typical “gothic” bands as a young teen – stuff like Sisters and the big four and others as I mentioned previously, but the bands that transitioned me into “Punk” and my major interest in it were groups like Rudimentary Peni, Zounds, The Mob, and Flux of Pink Indians.
Sure, I got into stuff that was more sing-songy and light-hearted at a certain point, but to me there was a real message behind PUNK that was bleak and very dark in nature. There’s a bullshit beauracratic system that doesn’t care about you, that allows the killing of women and children in the third world in the name of commerce and industry, dealing with being into a world where people hate and kill each other and you need to accept this as normal, and you’re strange for feeling fucking alienated by it? Theres a whole built up social structure that doesn’t care about you and that you feel completely alienated from – to me Punk was really about rejecting that. There are some really dark songs particularly by The Mob and Zounds that you could definitely play at a goth night but are definitely very political and Punk in nature. Although it’s not necessarily the most downbeat of any songs, “How Many More Lies?” by Conflict was a track that really hit me hard at a young age and was the culmination of those types of feelings of alienation. If Punk was the end of modernism then Cemetery is a fucking Norman Rockwell painting. Whenever we had the option of being billed by a promoter and were asked to classify our genre Des and I opted to be referred to as “Chicagos newest teen-pop sensation” rather than “Dark Punk”.
Dez: While I do consider us a part of this new wave of goth-punk, I don’t prefer the term “dark punk.” However, if that’s the phrase that this wave is remembered by, that’s really not so bad. Yeah we’re a fucking punk band but if we wanna get weird and play bullshit for 7 minutes or have a song that just 4 notes on a synth then we’ll do it, and it’s gonna be punk either way because we’re punks.
In 2013, Punk is still a community and one of the only places I feel comfortable. It should be an alternative to the total shit civilization we’ve created. I’d like to think that it isn’t just a thinly veiled mirror of society with lower standards, but some people just use the word “punk” to validate their heinous behavior. Punk still means so much to me.
Q: About the name “Cemetery.” It’s short and sweet and one would think that by now there’d have been a ton of bands with this name, yet I can’t actually think of any out there that already have it. (There’s probably some metal band floating around out there from the 80s or 90s with the name, I’m guessing….). Who chose the name and why?
Dez: The name was Danny’s idea and it was perfect. I’ve spent a significant amout of time in my life learning to live with death and tending to my family’s graves.
Danny: Haha, yes, there’s plenty of other bands called Cemetery – probably even more have actually existed than the ones that are documented on the internet. Des and I used to joke that we were the only one that had spelled Cemetery properly. We’d kind of give people a little bit of grief if they would spell it differently on fliers.
I think the name was a decision that Des and I had come to together, fully knowing that there were other bands with that name, and had kind of a “So” attitude about it. I think it also had to do with being conscious of other band names at the time being too long or not necessarily wanting to be a “The” something or somethings. Something concise that was kind of like “Oh, I can kind of guess what they’re going to be about.” Also, there was no other Cemetery’s from Chicago. And when it boils down to it I think we are just in love with that very trite imagery and things dealing with death and so forth. At some earlier shows I would have a quick Peace Punk thing regarding war and killing and “turning the earth into a cemetery” or “filling the world cemetery” that I think back of as pretty funny now – but I said it with a very straight face and it actually really resonated with Sam, who would later come on board to become our bassist, but he can’t quite remember what the sentence was either, ha!
Q: For a little while you had Christopher “Ilth” Erickson of Daily Void and the Blackouts (and others) in your lineup. Do you consider Cemetery to be part of the same scene that includes bands like Population, Anasazi, Arctic Flowers, Crimson Scarlet, and a lot of the newer deathrock bands that have come out of the hardcore scene? What was it in your own lives that made you want to start exploring darker sounds?
Danny: Those are all great bands that I completely appreciate and the likes of which we’ve had the extreme pleasure of sharing a bill with, and members of all of those bands have also expressed a lot of support and kind words on Cemetery. For all intents and purposes, yes, I think our sound could be classified as belonging to that scene. Although I think me and Des had certain ideas on how to differentiate ourselves from those bands – and while being able to be part of a scene and a sound shared with them have something unique to offer. Again I’d say we’re certainly less polished and probably have a lot more of a pop aspirations, wether you can hear it or not. In regards to working with Chris Ilth, that was a great time period as he is honestly one of the most lovely and creative people that I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting, and I personally loved everything he brought to Cemetery – a lot of rage and heart. I’m a huge fan of his solo sound work as well as his collages. But what a fucking madman! How do you play a show when your bassist is banned from half the venues in Chicago?
Dez: Yeah I think we’re a part of that scene. We’ve played with 3 out of 4 of those bands and felt totally comfortable with them. I think those bands have their own preference for what they want to be called, Dark Punk, or Post Punk, or Deathrock, while I always wanted to be labelled as a Goth band. Maybe it didn’t work. I’m not going to worry about that.
Chris Ilth is a great artist, seriously. He sees possibility in things most other people don’t. Him and I didn’t see eye to eye creatively. He also told me that I’m a control freak, and he’s not wrong.
I’m a huge fan of the current goth-punk scene. When I hear about a band I try to go buy their tape or record, and there’s so many good ones. Let’s keep up the quality of this scene. Work hard to make interesting songs that are worth using resources to record and reproduce. Let’s not run this into the ground like people did to “d-beat” or “noise, not music.” Make it catchy, make it weird, and if it’s not quite good enough then do it again. Be original, but if you want to be a clone of the classics then be the BEST clone.
Q: The song “State Ward” is one of the standout tracks you all have recorded. Without having looked at the lyrics, I’m guessing the song is about a mental hospital. What’s it about, and is it based on anyone’s personal experience(s)? How many cemetery songs are fueled by personal experience?
Danny: What I love about “State Ward” is that it’s an incredibly strong track with a lot of hard work and great ideas that were worked through with Des and our bassist at the time, Spaz, but I hate it because I wrote it about a very personal experience. It’s about some time that I spent in a psychiatric unit some years back after some events that had transpired during a point in peoples’ lives where it’s completely normal to be extremely depressed, and alienated. I think that the vocals and lyrics are the weakest part of the song, and it’s always the one that everybody mentions as their favorite!
Dez: I was in a dismal, dismal place in my mind when I wrote the demo songs. They’re all really personal to me. Depression has had such a role in shaping my personality and the music I make. I can’t put it in words, the music explains it better.
Q: One of my favorite questions to ask bands: If you all were stranded on a deserted island yet had some magical way to play records, but could only choose 5 records to take with you to listen to forevermore, what 5 LPs would those be, and why?
Danny: I hate this question, its fucking impossible to answer. I cant even technically answer this in a way that I would like to because THE LAST MAN TO FLY by THE TEAR GARDEN and WAKE by LYCIA would definitely be on a desert island list but those releases were only ever put out on CD and cassette. Its very hard to think of a list that I could accurately express how wide my taste varies and could definitely include my interest in electronic music and world beat etc. so I guess this is just what it has to boil down to. Including those Smiths and Virgin Prunes records makes me feel a little bit lame but they’re there because they are brilliant wonderful beautiful records that I’ve admired for a very long time. The other ones on the list I think are excellent examples of artists doing something outside of their usual sound or experimenting with something organic or electronic in a great way.
1. The Smiths – Strangeways Here We Come
2. Electronic – s/t
3. Virgin Prunes – If I Die, I Die
4. Flux – Uncarved Block
5. The Sisterhood – Gift
Dez: Yeah this sucks. I’ve been thinking about it for way too long, and it will be the reason this interview takes a month to get back to you, Oliver. This is all typical gateway shit, but your first time is usually the best time, yeah?
Sisters of Mercy– First and Last and Always
Depeche Mode– Catching Up with Depeche Mode
Tears for Fears– Songs from the Big Chair
Black Sabbath– Black Sabbath
Sisters of Mercy– Temple of Love
Catherine’s Cathedral– Flowerdust may have made the cut but it’s only on CD. Someone needs to print it on vinyl. Best 90’s goth.
Q: Are there any movies or other types of art that influence Cemetery? What might listeners find to be some of the more unusual or weird bands/movies/artists that members of Cemetery like?
Danny: I’m actually an avid film fan. Even more than records, I’m really into film more than anything else, and majored in Film/Video/New Media in school so I’m really influenced by movies a lot. Much like my good friend Chi in Anasazi. I also have a big collection of out of print 80s horror VHS (Chi’s collection is definitely the biggest, though). I’m definitely a fan and a collector of a certain era of Gore films; stuff by Lucio Fulci, Olaf Ittenbach, and Jorg Buttgereit are amongst my favorites. Outside of that I’ve had a lifelong love Troma films and anything dealing with toxic waste — this may be indicative of something in my contributions to Cemetery being a little ham-fisted. I definitely love a lot of things outside of that as well in terms of documentaries, transgressive, and experimental cinema. I also like a lot of video work by artists like George Kuchar and Mike Kelley, but one piece that I think I certainly used at a certain point to help with trying to find some inspiration in terms of imagery was Possibly In Michigan by Cecilia Condit.
I can talk about movies all day long – and I really would like to make a list of what my favorite movies are and which ones I find to be the most influential and why, but then this interview would be way too long. I think in terms of unusual bands that I could tell everybody to check out that had a huge influence, that would be The Rosegarden Funeral, Legion UK (80s band not to be confused with a newer band with the same name), Crow People, and The Vyllies.
Dez: I’ve got the “Opening of the Sixth Seal” by Danby hanging next to my bed. I also love Ivan Albright’s paintings, especially “That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (the Door)”. I love black and white films: Nosferatu is my favorite (as boring and trite and cliched as that could be). The Phantom Carriage, Vampyr, La Bete Humaine, and Fritz Lang films. The Hammer films have such gorgeous detailed scenery — they’re worth watching for that alone. I’m also interested in and inspired by certain occult texts, but that’s more of a personal matter.
Q: Where can folks go to check up on what’s going with Cemetery, and where can people go to buy releases, patches, and that sort of stuff?
Dez: You can get whatever we have to sell from my Occult Whispers store online. When the 2011 LP comes out, you can get that from Mass Media Records. I’m going to make sure that the UK and Australia gets copies of the LP too, and anyone else that wants to distribute it should get in touch with either the band or the label.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add, or plug, that I didn’t mention?
Danny: Everyone should pick up Anasazi’s “Sex with E.T.” flexi put out by my good friend Lexi Lampel on her label LEXI’S FLEXIS. Anasazi is such a great band, and the single is fucking amazing, incredibly creative, danceable and FUN – an aspect of the original goth movement that’s not as present in the current revival. The song is definitely a perfect ode to Alien Sex Fiend. Also worth a mention is an amazing person and musician, Jess Poplawski, is now the bassist for Anasazi and her other band SURVIVAL is one of the best newer bands coming out of this whole thing!
Dez: Big thanks to Mass Media records and Inflammable Material records for the support. Thanks to you, Oliver, for documenting this scene so well. Those deathrock mixtapes you’ve compiled are excellent.
Polish and Russian deathrock/postpunk rules. Go listen to Salome’s Dance.
Try to take care of each other. When you go, you go alone.
Cemetery have a Facebook page here.