Interview: James Pligge of Harm’s Way on ‘Common Suffering’

Chicago’s Harm’s Way have almost become almost bigger than the music at this point – vocalist James Pligge literally became The Running Man meme thanks to a live video. Thankfully, the band are back after five years to remind fans, spectators, and anyone who is willing to use their ears that they are back in a way that even they are surprised by. Common Suffering, out September 29th via Metal Blade, reframes everything great about the band’s industrial metallic hardcore excellence into a wholly new beast. Amplify the riffs, add it much more noise, sludge, and doom influence, and make it heavier and weirder than before, and that’s the recipe that makes Common Suffering the best heavy record of 2023. Lo and behold, it’s also an album that only exists because of the group’s newest members – with a hat tip to unexpected producer Will Yip.

What I love about the aggression and existential, almost nihilistic anger is that it’s a perfect outlet for a world that seemingly doesn’t give a shit about us. So it’s up to us to reflect the energy that we want to give out, and sometimes that’s negative. Like previous records, Harm’s Way’s progression almost renders the past records obsolete, even if the familiar elements are there to re-discover. It’s a leveling up. For Pligge, they never thought they would get to this day:

“This record for everyone in our band, there was a point in time where we didn’t know if we were going to ever put out a new record. There was a lot of things going on that made us question what the future was going to look like for the band. We wrote basically over Zoom for over a year. We didn’t even meet as a band for over 14 months in person. It’s very rewarding to know that this day has finally come.”

“In 2019,” he continues, “we definitely had some ideas for songs and we started writing the record. And then when 2020 hit, we went to Zoom. Now writing on Zoom is obviously something we never thought we’d have to do, but I will say not one of those songs made it to the record.”

Sometimes, you need [relatively] fresh blood to reinvigorate a band; as Pligge shares, that’s exactly what happened:“[Guitarist] Nick [Gauthier] and [bassist] Casey [Soyk] really deserve the credit for creating a lot of the music. Being a band 17 years, getting Nick and Casey kind of in this second half of our existence, if you will, really energized us. I will even go as far as to say they revitalized Harm’s Way, in the way that they brought something new, something creative, and brought a whole another realm of music and riffs that my brain was not even able to comprehend. And I just think it’s very important that people understand that those dudes are a huge part of a lot of what we do. A lot of credit only because they’re not original members. They’re just not looked at maybe as the same, but moving they were as big of part of this record as anything or anyone else.”

The term outlet is overused, but few records feel like a perfectly calibrated outlet for whatever has frustrated you of late. Personal, professional, political, existential: it’s all expertly represented on Common Suffering. Pligge leaned into his strengths, thematically:

“My lyrics are in no way, shape or form positive at all [laughs]. But obviously in the form of expressing yourself, I feel like one of the best ways to connect to others is to basically talk about feelings that you have in time and that allows you to express those negative emotions or feelings through a positive outlet, which is music. I rewrote a lot of lyrics as time went on because many of the lyrics from five, six years ago evolved into meaning something completely different. We came to that title as a group because a lot of us were going through some really hard times, and it’s strange to know that we all have this thing in common in the sense that at one point in time we are all suffering. And I felt that if there’s one thing we all have in common as a human species, it’s that we all suffer.”

Common Suffering is available today from Metal Blade Records. Follow Harm’s Way on Facebook and Twitter for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Valadez.

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