Interview: Cave In’s Stephen Brodsky, Adam McGrath Talk Latest Record, ‘Heavy Pendulum’

Cave In have never been a band to dwell in the past. Twenty-seven years into their career, the group have amassed a catalogue of diverse material ranging from metallic hardcore to proggy space-rock, continually progressing with every release. But after the tragic passing of longtime bassist Caleb Scofield in 2018 and the release of Final Transmission—his last demo recordings with the band—the four-piece are contemplating the past as much as the future, a notion displayed on their latest record, Heavy Pendulum, out May 20 via Relapse Records.  

Musically, what was the direction you were coming from with Heavy Pendulum? You have mentioned before that Final Transmission stemmed from a concept Caleb Scofield had. Is Heavy Pendulum a continuation of that concept?
Stephen Brodsky: Yeah, I would say so. I think with Final Transmission, those were always meant to be demos for something that would transpire and grow in a recording studio—doing a proper studio recording because Cave In hadn’t done that in a long time, and we were sort of in this mode of doing renegade recordings in our rehearsal space. That was fun and cool for its own reasons, but I think the idea with writing in this era of our lives with Cave In, it was always meant to be something that sonically was treated in the best way possible. Caleb really had this specific vision about moving forward with certain sounds or vibes of the band, things that kind of set us apart from our contemporaries, and with Heavy Pendulum, we feel like we probably got as close to that vision that we could have. 

And what would you define that vision as being?
Adam McGrath: Like Steve just said, last time we were trying to write a record with Caleb, our goal was to write the best Cave In songs we possibly could that sounds like the best of us and showcases what’s the best and unique of our band compared to our peers, focusing on the best of us and going to a studio. That was his big thing—No more do-it-yourself recordings, no more sending somebody something off to mix—We’re going to go to a proper studio and have it mixed and recorded by a producer, which ended up (being) Kurt (Ballou). So the vision was just doing a proper Cave In record because before Final Transmission, I don’t think we’d been back in the studio for a long time. I think Perfect Pitch Black might have been the last time we did studio recordings that were Cave In releases. 

S: Planets Of Old 

A: Right, Planets Of Old, which was 2007, I think. It had been a long time since we did a proper studio recording. I think the practice space recordings served the purpose for what it was at that particular time, but obviously Caleb was right back then that we should be making records in the studio. They sound the best. 

Was it a different experience being back in the studio after so long, and also having Nate Newton involved?
S: Yeah, for sure. We were super prepared with the songs. We demoed them and made it so that every line was where it needed to be, every lyric was as tight as it could be. We were pretty together on the batch of material that we wanted to work with. We even had an idea of the sequence in mind. I think in the past, it had been always a little bit more random and just sort of left to chance as far as what the results would be, and we just wanted to cover our bases on this one and really get focused and try to make things sonically airtight and the ideas foolproof.  

And obviously having Nate involved was a huge game changer. Caleb was always, like, the “suck filter” for our band. If something sucked, he would probably be the first one to let us know that either an idea or a concept wasn’t worth pursuing, and so Nate kind of took on that role, which is super helpful. He was incredibly engaged in the writing, and I think because he’s grown up with Cave In, and we’ve grown up with Nate and his music, he’s been watching Cave In from the sidelines just going like, “Shit, I wish those guys did that,” or, “why did you leave that song off the record,” and so once we got in this situation where we were able to work together, he a was able to apply that stuff, just his observations as a friend and a fan, to help us shape our trajectory moving forward. 

A: Picking up what Steve just said, a friend and a fan. I mean, Nate will say that there’s places he wished we’d have stayed or had gone for a long time as our band went places he wishes we would have stayed.  He was very good at keeping us focused upon, “No, this is what you should be doing. I love this part of your band; Keep on doing it.” Things like that. You see that with Nate in the setlist we’ve played in the past few years. There’s songs that I never thought about playing again. I think “Woodwork” is the best example. I never thought about putting “Woodwork” back in the set, but Nate was very insistent upon it because he loved that song as a fan of the band, and I think it’s added a very good dynamic. That’s a really good example of Nate being in the band and saying, “This is something you’re good at; Let’s play this.” 

Did he bring something different on a musical scale as well?
S: Absolutely. I think as far as arrangements go, Nate is excellent at being able to float above a song and see how it should spread out and what areas should be covered and making things either longer or shorter—just a great arranger. We’ve been a fan of his songwriting ever since we knew about one of his first bands, Channel—just really great, heavy shit.  He’s got a fucking amazing—just one of the best—aggressive vocals in the game, and it’s been that way for a long time.  

So I think we were able to really go to extremes with the things about Cave In that you could say the best of elements, and push them to the extreme. “Wavering Angel,” for instance, is one of the softest Cave In songs for the first minute to two minutes, and I feel like Nate was very instrumental in sort of preserving the atmosphere and the vibe of that song. Especially at the beginning, he had a hand in arranging it throughout the rest of it. But then with a song like “Blood Spiller,” it’s kind of the flipside. We were able to just push that song to make it as aggressive and forceful and menacing as a Cave In song should be with Nate Newton in the band in 2022. 

A: I also think, just listening back to the record because we actually all listened to it together last weekend while we were doing a photoshoot, and I was like—because I haven’t listened to it a lot—but hearing what he’s done, it reminds me that he’s taken everything that Caleb brought to us, because he also learned, I don’t know how many Caleb songs he’s learned in the past two years as far as playing with us, but he took kind of what Caleb has done and kind of took his Nate Newton twist and also added a kind of Tony Bono Into Another vibe and kind of put that all in a blender and that’s what he does in our band now. And I love it. 

Was there music that you were influenced by or drawing from that was maybe out of the ordinary for Cave In? For example, I think Heavy Pendulum has some serious Soundgarden vibes.
A: That’s certainly on there. 

S: Yeah, 100%. I think Soundgarden, as far as their trajectory goes, they’re one of the bands from that world of grunge that—They just have such a deep catalog that it’s very rewarding when you take the deep dive with that band. I think all of us did that to a greater degree. Obviously records like Badmotorfinger and Superunknown, I mean, we all wore out our copies of those records as kids, but getting more in touch with Ultramega OK, Louder Than Love, and even more recently, the song “Black Rain.”  

I have a very distinct memory of us just being at our rehearsal space, and it was after we were jamming and writing some new stuff one night, and I think Nate put that song on. That’s a pretty interesting Soundgarden recording because it’s music that was written and recorded during Badmotorfinger, but then the band finished it and put a whole new vocal and topline over it years later after they had broken up and then got back together, and so here’s this fucking amazing song with the vibes of old-school Soundgarden from one of their creative peaks, but it has this newer sort of presentation. I just really connected with that song, I guess.  

I feel like with Cave In, there’s probably some similarities where, here we are kind of just scanning over our trajectory as band and sort of pulling from these key moments of our creative peaks and in nearly 25 years of existence, trying to just put it all together to make something above and beyond the catalogue as a whole. Basically try to stuff our catalog into one record. So Soundgarden was super influential for that reason. 

A: I also think, because someone else said—a friend of ours who had heard some of the songs—”Oh, the new record sounds like Soundgarden.” I’m like, “You can certainly hear that influence,” and my response would be like, “We grew up loving Soundgarden. We’re in our early 40s, and we were at the perfect age for all that music when it came out, so I’m not surprised at all that these influences are coming out still. It’s not weird to me. 

Cave In

Steve, did touring with Quicksand and playing those songs every night play a role in your approach to writing new material?
S: Absolutely. It’s been a real high mark for me to play music with those guys and to wrap my head around songs that I’ve just been air-guitaring to and air-drumming to for years. There’s this really cool simplicity to Quicksand, and there’s an immediacy, and I think that’s borne from those guys growing up in the world of hardcore punk.  

I think I read something about Walter writing lyrics and he was like—and I’m paraphrasing, but to elicit a response from your audience you’re sort of sending out commands to them. So even lyrically, I think with this record, Heavy Pendulum, I tried to use some form of action as much as I could in each line to kind of just keep the story moving. Some of the best hardcore lyrics out there are ones that just have movement and sort of keep your eyes skipping to the next line, and the words just sort of flow out of you when you’re singing along. So I tried to do that on this record. 

What was the direction of the lyrics? It sounds like maybe there’s some looking back and reflecting? In “Reckoning,” you guys reference lyrics from older songs.
A: I would say some songs for sure. What you just said—I guess what I was trying to do with that song, it’s about losing someone you love and (your) life changing, but I guess what I was trying to do—it’s kind of like that David Bowie song, “Ashes To Ashes.” Is that what it’s called? 

(Steve and Adam sing “Ashes To Ashes” together.) 

A: But that song, for example, he’s really quoting a lot of his older material. It’s like a version of looking back at who you are now, looking back upon what you used to be. That’s kind of what that is, looking back upon what something was and quoting it or bringing up these references to something that happened before. 

In that respect, is the album also looking forward?
A: Absolutely. The whole record is looking forward. The whole record is a new lease on this band. It’s wild; I just can’t believe this is even happening right now, that we’re still doing this. We started this thing when we were 16, so it’s just crazy this is all still happening. I can’t believe we’re doing another full-length record; I can’t believe it’s on Relapse; I can’t believe Nate Newton is doing it with us. It’s wild that it’s still happening and that we’re still pushing forward.   

What does the name Heavy Pendulum represent?
S:  Well, I guess, kind of going off what Adam said, it’s a reference to time being this thing that you have to reckon with sometimes, and when there are major events that happen in your life that force you to just look ahead and look back at the same time, it can feel pretty heavy. Obviously losing Caleb was, and still is, a pretty heavy thing on our souls, and I think the fact that it is happening in what would be considered the middle of our lives is very interesting. Just to be at that sort of halfway point, like a pendulum swinging, sort of in the middle of this motion in the pendulum of life, I guess.  

So, I don’t know, there’s some of that going on, but I’d like for it to feel hopeful because I think as long as you’re still living and breathing and you wake up and there’s the daylight, you have a chance at just making the best at this life no matter which way that has to transpire. Like Adam said, here we are still talking about our band; People still care; We’re putting out records, and we just made one that we feel is one of our best, and there are times when it has been the complete opposite of this moment.  

I guess the other thing with the title is (drummer) JR (Conners) thought that it was always a great title for a record, and talking about a pendulum, something keeping time, your drummer is saying, “Hey, let’s call this record Heavy Pendulum,” and he’s one of the best pendulums in the game. What are you going to do? The title was something I came up with, but he felt pretty strongly about using it to name the record. 

Something else I thought of as soon as I saw the name was this idea of you guys moving ahead with a new record, a new era, but at the same time revisiting old material you hadn’t played in years when you performed Until Your Heart Stops in its entirety. Did that factor into your mindset as well?
A: The Until Your Heart Stops stuff, we dove into that pretty much when the record was already done. That was a fun exercise, and the payday was good (laughs). But I can’t say that it had anything to do with the new record. 

I had seen you guys mention that there was some material that was Caleb’s that had been worked into the record.
A: Yeah, there’s “All Illusion,” when I say “all illusion” in “Reckoning”—That’s his lyrics. But I know the riff in “New Reality,” when Steve’s vocals kick in, that’s a Caleb riff. I mean, I remember him showing it to us. What else was Caleb’s on there? 

S: The song “Amaranthine” is taken from a notebook that Caleb had for song ideas and such, so most of those lyrics are Caleb’s, and we all kind of reworked it in little places just to fit the song. So we got Caleb music; we got Caleb lyrics on this record. It’s pretty cool. 

So it’s sort of like he’s still involved with you guys in a way.
A: And he always will be. We shaped each other, and there’s things that I do to this day that I learned from him, and it’ll never go away. That’s life, and when I do those things, I feel the love, and I feel the spirit of Caleb, and it’s good to do those things. 

Did Nate play Caleb’s bass on the recordings like he has been doing live?
S: I believe he did. 

A: Yeah, I think he did. 

So how did Relapse come about?
S: When we put out the Final Transmission record, which was on Hydra Head—it was one the last Hydra Head releases—one of the people involved was working at Relapse, and so he was very instrumental in getting the record out there and pushing it with the best of his abilities, just considering that we wanted to keep everything very cost-efficient because the whole idea was for it to be a benefit for the Scofield family. That’s how we started the conversation about the future of Cave In, because once Hydra Head folded it was Pip over at Relapse who was one of the first people to know that this was happening with Hydra Head, so he reached out to say Relapse would love to have you if you guys are interested and looking for a new home.  

So Relapse was technically the first to express interest, and there were other labels that had expressed interest as well, but I think just discussing it amongst ourselves, it was fairly evident that Relapse was probably the best move just considering the history. Relapse actually issued a version of Until Your Heart Stops back in 1999, and it was a European issue of that record. They did, like, 1,000 CDs or something. So there was that.   

There was a kinship with Hydra Head and Relapse for a number of years back in the early days of Hydra Head, and Philly is a place that Cave In hit pretty hard back in the day when we were just playing shows, like even just doing weekends. It was really easy to just squeeze in Philly.  There was always so many great places to play, and there’s always something going on there for us to be a part of, whether it was Stalag 13 or the churches that were putting on shows—punk shows being put on in the basements of churches—The Troc, and so being that that area is where Relapse is based; We were always running into people from Relapse at these shows.  

So, this history just kind of goes back, and it seemed just like a no-brainer to join forces, especially when it came to administering—not just putting out a new record, but for the label to pick up and administer the whole Cave In catalog. 

So are there going to be things like reissues and maybe some more Anomalies-type records?
S: Yeah, there’s definitely interest in reissuing vinyl. With record pressing plants being what they are at this point, it’s obviously, like, the wait times for these things are prolonged, so it’s just harder to plan, or at least we just have to sit on stuff a little bit longer, but the interest is definitely there. But we also have an opportunity through Relapse to put out stuff that is connected with certain releases that may have never gotten a proper release, or never been released at all, whether it’s demos or live recordings or alternate versions of songs. Relapse is definitely interested in presenting that to people in conjunction with official releases and represses of those and rereleases and such. 

What is the status of Cave In moving forward?  Is it going to be a regular touring and recording thing?
A: I’d say so. Steve and Nate are in lots of bands, so it’s all about scheduling and trying to figure out the calendar, but I think everyone in Cave In is on the same page about trying to do as much as we can for what makes sense and what everyone is able to do. We want to try to do some shows. We’ve talked about trying to play this whole new record. I mean, I would love to play every single song live if we could. We’re up for it. It’s just good also to do this on a whole new—You know, the last record was really heavy. Even just putting it out there, it was heavy. It’s just nice that this is a whole different experience and it’s nice to put out a record where there’s not a heavy thing attached to it, and it’s exciting. 

S: Yeah, like Adam said, it’s all about scheduling really. Especially with me and Nate, it’s like this little community of bands and projects that we have. It’s like musical Jenga. You move one piece, and the whole structure kind of just wavers. So calendars being synced up, just planning shit as tight as possible, that’s all crucial, but yeah, we’ve all found a new love for doing this band through the process of writing and making this new record and pushing it as well. It’s good. We needed to reconnect with that, I think, just to feel like the future is sort of worth directing ourselves towards with this vehicle. 

So what are your favorite songs on the new record and why?
A: Oh, man. 

S: I would say “Searchers Of Hell” is probably my favorite. The reason for that is because it was always the quote, unquote, “weird song of the bunch” and there was times where we felt like we might not even put it on the record. It’s essentially something we wrote almost entirely at rehearsal, which is very different from most of the other songs which we were demoed ahead of time, and then we would discuss making changes to the demos and reconfiguring things so that once we got together to work on these songs as a band, we were already sort of two or three steps into the process.  

But “Searchers” was completely unlike that. It just sort of came out of thin air. Lyrically, it’s got this weird sort of obsession with, I guess what has been happening in the world of politics probably for a long time, but obviously when the pandemic hit and with election year and (the) George Floyd protests, how could you not just pay attention to politics to the point where it felt like your brain was on fire?  We all made it just very important in our lives for better or worse. I will say that I learned more just about the ins and outs of that world, maybe more in the past two to three years than ever in my life. So “Searchers” kind of goes there, and there are lines like, “You’re dropping a bomb shell / you wish each other well,” where, like, people in power in politics or in the news for some reason, there’s speculation that they are speaking to each other through this vehicle of media with these coded phrases. I just found that so fascinating, with the whole Epstein case and how connected he was to all these people in political power and celebrities. Just following that and kind of seeing the language that surrounded it with some of the key players involved was really interesting. So I think “Searchers” kind of is a response to that in a way 

A: I guess if I had to pick one, I’m just going to pick the last song, “Wavering Angel,” just because I loved that song really early on. I saw Steve play that song by himself solo years ago, and I think I brought it up. I was like, “Hey, that ‘light as a feather’ song, I like that song. Keep that one.”  Because I remember the chorus, “light as a feather.” Like, “That song is good, keep that one.” That was a couple years ago. 

S: That was at the Fuzzrocious pedal expo. 

 A: Yeah, that was probably four years ago. It was a while ago. He introduced it, and when it got in the conscious of Cave In, it just kept on getting longer and longer and longer. I never thought it would be, like, 10 minutes. I feel like it has everything the band is good at. Also, it has things that, as a guitar nerd, and things that I’ve dreamed about doing in Cave In, it’s all there. So it’s like, you have the soft dynamic; You have the heavy Crazy Horse Neil Young part; You have the Metallica chug part, and then you have seventies guitar rock and arena rock guitar solos fading in the night. It has everything you want. It’s full-on arena rock, and I’m all for it. 

Watch the video for “Reckoning” here:

For more from Cave In, find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Bandcamp.

Photos courtesy of Danielle Dombrowski

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