Interview: “I Don’t Have the Answers,” Jeremy Bolm of Touche Amore

Chances are, Touche Amore is your favorite band. I’m willing to bet some amount of money, that if you listen to either emo or hardcore, and certainly if you dip into both, that you’ve at some point recommended one of their albums to someone (most likely Is Survived By). Even if Touche Amore is not your favorite band, they’re more than definitely the favorite band of someone you know. The band has one of the most hardcore fan bases in… well, all of hardcore, and after speaking with their lead singer Jeremy Bolm for New Noise’s forthcoming issue, it’s easy to see why.

If you care about Jeremy’s band, then Jeremy is more than happy to return the consideration. He’s a model of appreciation and humility, duel fascists of hist character that make him extremely approachable, even at the risk of his own emotional health. The overwhelming fan response to Touche Amore’s fourth album, Stage Four has made Jeremy a spokesperson in some of his fan’s minds for grief and loss, as the album deeply explored his experience losing his mother to cancer in 2016. In response, the band’s newest album Lament is an attempt to process the response to their last album and come to terms with the infinite horizon of grief that opens with the passing of a loved one.

Lament will be released this Friday, October 9 via Epitaph Records. In place of an in-person record release show, Touche Amore has announced that their record release party will be taking place entirely online. You can join the band in celebrating their new album by tuning in Monday, October 12 at 6pm PT/9pm ET via Twitch. In addition to the live performance, the event will feature a Q&A with the band, and a DJ set from Jeremy Bolm. Exclusive merch will also be available in conjunction with the livestream including a limited-edition Lament LP limited to 300 units.

Below is a transcript of Mick R’s phone conversation with Jeremy this past summer. The transcript has been edited slightly for the purpose of clarity.

Thanks for agreeing to talk with us. We’re all pretty excited to have you featured in our next issue.
Cool, cool. Thanks!

Have you read New Noise before? Are you familiar?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve got issues. You do the flexis and things like that. What the magazine is about is something that I always thought was really cool.

Glad that you like what we do. Sometimes people aren’t so familiar.
No, you guys are one of the few magazines left that covers all these different genres and still actually do a physical product. It’s hard not to pay attention to something like that.

Yeah, I like that aspect of it, too, that the physical magazine is still the main product; it’s not a supplemental to the website. Did you use to collect a lot of magazines? Were you big on the ‘zine scene back in the day?
Yeah, there were a few that I would go to back in the day. There was one back in the early 2000s called Status. It was run out of Thousand Oaks [CA]. It was also a record label and the guy who ran it would release records by Curl Up and Die and the Casket Lottery. That was my first and only experience kind of doing any kind of writing for a magazine, so I did record reviews for it and I did a couple of interviews as well.

Like, I got to interview Jacob Bannon of Converge when I was 19 or 20. It’s kind of cool that things came full circle years later that I ended up having a relationship with him and much later on I brought it up to him, like, “You probably don’t remember, but I interviewed you,” and he was like, “Oh, shit. That’s crazy!”

So he did not remember you from that interview.
I’m sure he did not. It was either during the You Fail Me or No Heroes tour; I’d have to look at the date. I still have the tape. This is before digital recorders, so I have the mini-tape of the interview somewhere.

Do you think it would be worth releasing it at some point?
You know, I’ve thought about it, but I would just enjoy listening back to it. I don’t even have something to play it on, so I would have to buy another one of those recorders just to hear it back because lord knows what happened to that thing. I think I was borrowing it from the owner of the magazine.

Actually, I did a ‘zine a few years back called Down Time in-between records where I actually transcribed it from [the interview] from the [original] magazine because I still have a copy of it. But I haven’t listened to the audio of that since it was originally done. I’m sure I sound super nervous which is probably fun and a little humbling.

Yeah, it can be kind of hard to look back at your former self and realize, “Wow, that is the same person. That person was me.” Speaking of looking back, you have a new album coming out in October called Lament. It seems like it’s focusing on the themes of reflection and looking back. Would you mind unpacking some of those themes, specifically as they are anchored in the title?
Our last album before this was called Stage Four, and it dealt with the passing of my Mom and that whole process. This record is about what my life is since that record came out, how has my life been affected since the release of that record. The issues that come with being so direct and honest about my own grief and how that has effected my life with an audience responding to it and the connections that I’ve made with people through that suffering.

But also about becoming the spokesperson that I didn’t really need to become for grief where I’m often approached about it and not really knowing how to handle it or respond to it and how it can throw my entire day off. If I’m on tour it’s a daily basis for someone to approach me about it, but even when I’m home not a day goes by when I’m not getting DM’d or getting emailed about something.

It’s me handling that. But on the more positive side, it’s also a bit of a reflection on the people in my life who have been there for me and the people who haven’t been there for me. So, it touches on all those topics.  

What are some of the situations where people came to you about their grief or loss where you felt out of your depth?
It kind of hits me out of nowhere. I’m on tour and walking to get a coffee, in a record store flipping through records, someone will approach me, and I’m more than happy to talk to anybody, I’m so appreciative of anybody who gives a shit about this band, I’ll take a headphone out and be like, “Hey, what’s going on?” And it seems like it’s going to be just a nice conversation, but more often than not, they say, “Just want to let you know my sister died of brain cancer, and your record was really there for me.” Or harder than that, they say, “Hey, how did you deal with this?” Or some sort of advice that I never really felt very prepared to give because I’m still going through it.

I don’t think there is an end date on grief, or an end date on suffering in that regard. So, it’s tough when I’m potentially having a good day, and I’m in a good headspace, and then something like that can throw me off because not only am I empathetic to the person sharing it with me, I’m empathetic to why they are sharing it with me because I know that if I was in their shoes and felt like I connected with a record because of suffering that I was going through, and I saw a person from the band who wrote that record, I would do the same thing. I would share it!

It’s sort of this guilt that I’m feeling. Feeling bad because I never respond to DMs because I just don’t have the mental capacity for it, you know? I’ll see them come in and I’ll scan it and I’ll just see the word “Stage Four” and the word “cancer” or something, and I can’t do it. It’s tough. So I feel guilty because I’m not opening myself up to these people who want to share with me, but it’s because I just can’t. It’s really hard to read that stuff. It’s between the guilt of knowing why they’re doing it, and having empathy for why they’re doing it, but I feel like just can’t play the role that I’m expected to.

Right. You’re not a psychologist.
Honestly, I don’t have the answers.

Do you find that most people are content to just offload their feelings to you, or do you run into situations where people are actively looking for more from you?
It’s all different cases honestly. Sometimes it’s someone looking for some kind of advice, which I’m not qualified to give, or it’s someone looking to share something because they related to our record. Again, I totally get it. There are so many bands in my life who have put out records that have meant something to me and I had the opportunity to tell them that.

I guess as a younger person, I never thought about how if a record is deeply personal to that artist, me telling them that how the record made you feel could potentially effect them. You don’t think about these types of things when you’re a fan or when you’ve been touched by a record. But, now I’ve been put in the position where I’m realizing that it can be, for a lack of a better word, triggering in a way where you’re like, “Oh god … ”

The guys in my band over the years have started to sort of see it. I don’t know how aware of it they always were, but there was an instance once where we were on tour, the show was over, a group of us went to walk down the street to find the one open pizza by the slice place that was still open to grab a bite before we did the overnight ride, and we were all in good spirits. It was in Toronto, actually. Anyway, we walked there, and we all grabbed a quick slice, and everyone was laughing and enjoying each other’s company, and then on the way back, a bar had been let out and a bunch of people at the bar were at the show earlier, and they see the guys in my band, and they all high-five them and say, “Great show! blah blah blah.”

And then one of the bar patrons sees me and approaches, and I just watched them be full of happiness and joy or whatever, and then they turn to me and say, “Hey, I just want to let you know my sister killed herself last week and your record has really been there for me this week. I’m so happy the show happened.” I was just leveled by it. I was like, “Oh my god!” Everyone in my band watched that happen, and then we walked the rest of the way to the venue in silence. And then one of them pulled me aside and said, “That sucked.” I mean yeah, tell me about it.

Having those types of situations happen more often than not … I’m not mentally prepared to handle that kind of stuff. It’s often really hard. I’m just doing my best to traverse this world like anyone else, you know? I’m just lucky to have the platform that I have to express my grief this way. Doing this band has been my outlet for all of this stuff.

I’m foolish in the way that I’ve never gone to any kind of therapy because I’ve got this sheer excuse that I’ve built because if I go to therapy, then what am I going to have to sing about? You know? All of my problems will be solved. Will I run out of things to sing about? This band has always been sort of my therapeutic way of dealing with stuff.

So yeah, it’s a position that I didn’t realize I would fully put myself in releasing that record, because to me, doing that record was necessary. It was a necessary way for me to handle my grief. Now, here we are, years later, and I didn’t realize the impact that releasing that record would really have. Writing Lament for me was a way to sort of get out my feelings on how Stage Four has effected me and the guilt that I have for not really being able to be there for people but also me expressing that shit’s hard to navigate. 

Have you attempted to funnel these types of interactions into situations that are more manageable for you?
Not really. No. I think I just do my best to avoid it as much as possible, which probably isn’t healthy either. 

But you’re still open to these interactions.
Well, it’s because I don’t know how not to be. [Laughs] It’s because I live with being so appreciative of anyone ever giving a shit about what we do and continuing to listen to what we do. It’s not lost on me that this is our fifth record, and for someone to have been there from the first record, or even the third, a lot happens between here and there you know. People’s interests change and I get that.

I joke that our band started before Drake became a thing. Once Drake became a thing, you saw a lot of people jump ship because there was a new genre that was exciting and new. [Laughs] So anyone who was there from the beginning, I feel like I owe them my life. I’m always open to a conversation. I’m always going to be present at a show. I’ve never seen myself as the type to hide backstage the whole time. I like having a relationship with people who are nice enough to give us their time. It’s a double-edged sword. 

The cover art of Lament is very interesting, and I’m wondering if it’s as symbolic as I’m reading it. It’s all one word, but one part of the title is sinking while the other is rising, and it gives the impression that they’re revolving. Sort of how emotions and thoughts are sometimes more submerged than others. And at other times, they come out of nowhere and surface unexpectedly. Am I on to something there?
I think you 100 percent nailed it. That is exactly what we were going for. Nick [Steinhardt, guitarist] has done all of our art from the beginning. It’s what he does for a living. He’s a brilliant graphic design artist. But, when we work together, he’ll be the first to tell you that he treats me like a client when it comes to how to layout a record.

We work very very closely, and he’s very conscious and kind when it comes to what I’m trying to get across. We work very closely when it comes to the lyrical content when we’re writing a record, and I have lyrics more or less done, I’ll send them to him to give him an idea of what to do in terms of album art. He likes to get a start on that stuff really early on.

So, the title track of the record being “Lament,” it has to do with that cycle, you know. There is a line in the song, “I lament, then I forget / I lament, then I reset.” My day can just start, and I’ll be totally normal and feeling totally fine, and then it can be something as simple as a message that comes to me, or I’ll see something that totally spirals my day a little out of control. Then I do my best to deflect from it and just distract myself from whatever that is. Then I’ll go to bed and wake up, and it’s the same thing all over again. It’s the positives and negatives of traversing this world.

I feel like the song title “Come Heroine” is important for what is happening in this country right now, where you have the opioid crisis now overlapping with the COVID pandemic. A lot of people seek solace from their problems in drugs, and when times are tough, like now, it feels especially relevant.
It’s a very provocative song title. That’s kind of why I choose it. But, for me, that song is about my partner and her being such a positive force in my life for getting me through, especially the loss of my Mom. But I also realize that she herself has had her own losses in her life and struggles.

For me, it’s to show my appreciation for someone who has their own list of reasons why they’ve had a really hard go at life but who has been able to put that aside for me. Who has been able to be there for me the way she has. That’s who that song is for.

So, it’s literally that she is your heroine.
Yeah. The opening line is, “From peaks of blue / Come heroine.” She’s got her own mountain ranges of sadness that she’d had to go through in her life. So I look at it like, from there she came and brought this really warm amount of kindness and expectance to me.

That’s very cool. To be honest, when I listened to it, I did not come to that same conclusion.
To be totally honest with you, that’s my favorite thing about music. I’ve never once taken any kind of offense when someone misinterprets something because I truly believe that once you put a song out into the world, it’s no longer yours. It’s up to the listener to decide what the narrative is. I’ve had plenty of people approach me and tell me about how “this song meant this,” or how “that song meant that.” Like, the first song on Stage Four, I talk about the issues that I had trying to get my Mom to eat; she was losing a lot of weight, you know. And I had one person tell me that that song helped them with their eating disorder.

And I wasn’t going to be like, “Ah no, that song is not about an eating disorder.” In fact, that’s beautiful. That’s really special. So whenever someone guesses on it, I’m always kind of entertained by it. Unless it’s so offensively wrong. Like, “Oh it’s about how he beat this person up!”

Right, something that is totally not you, or something that you wouldn’t do.
No, of course!

Photo by George Clarke

You mentioned that the band came up around the same time that Drake did, and at that time the music scene was different in some ways. At that time, there was a definite emo revival and post-hardcore revival. How has emo and the punk scene changed in between then and now? Especially in the last four years, there appear to have been some titanic shifts in those scenes.
It’s a good question. I don’t know if there is one specific thing. I think the world goes in big pendulum switches where we become a lot more conscious. When you have someone like Trump in office, things get a lot more intense politically.  Like, when Bush was in office people, were a lot more politically minded.

But, then we had a few years with Obama where things felt very average for the most part. Obviously, there were still a lot of things happening politically. But, once we got Trump in office, politics and social commentary have come to the forefront again. It’s not a silver lining, but it’s good to have these conversations.

If it’s amplifying the conversation, then I think that’s a good thing. But no one is happy that with where we are at the same time. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of the situation. I think it offers a lot of room for self-reflection, too. When you’re dealing with such in tense political situations, it makes you look at yourself and ask, “Am I doing everything that I can to right these wrongs?” I think that plays a role into how things have changed for sure.

Do you feel like a different person since the band started?
Oh, certainly! I was 24 or 25, and now I’m getting damn near 40. I’m 37 now. I think that once you turn 30 you start to really, really, really look at your life. Our entire record Survived By, I wrote when I was 30 basically about that. The maturity and whether you’re living the type of life that is worth remembering.

I feel like when you’re 20 you feel like you’re invincible, and you’re just not thinking about your future very much. But, now I’m at a point, I think we all are, where we’re thinking about whether we’re all on the right side of history with everything. We’re a lot more politically conscious. We’re a lot more socially conscious. All of these sorts of things, you know?

You feel like you’re more aware of things in general.
Oh yeah. Like, when the band started it was just all about having as much fun as possible. Sleeping on floors and not really caring about how you can’t really pay your bills. You’re living at home. You’re living with your folks still. That’s how it was. I was collecting unemployment and playing shitty shows.

There would be shitty tours just living off of gas station food and just the whole thing. I didn’t think at that time that I would still be in this band all these years later, but you grow with that, and you learn to adapt. I still think that those punk ethics that you get from those early days inform how we live our lives now.

You mentioned that there were records that helped you through hard times. Of the musicians who made those records are there any who you wish you would have talked to during your scene days or who you still hope to talk to about how those records impacted you?
At the end of the day, I’m just such a fan. I’m a huge record collector. Records mean everything in the entire world to me. I feel like one of the biggest privileges that this band has had is that we’ve sort of played with all of my favorite bands at this point with the exception of maybe Deftones. We played a festival with them but that doesn’t really count.

I’ve been having this talk a lot lately. I’ve started a podcast a couple of months ago, and a part of the conversations that keeps coming up, is that one of, if not my favorite thing, about this genre punk, is that the ceiling is so low that, it’s the only genre, and I would love to be challenged on this, I would love to be told another one, but it’s the only genre that I can really think of that if you tried just hard enough it’s not impossible for you to play with your favorite band.

It’s completely within the realm of possibility. You make friends with the promoter, you know?  Your favorite band doesn’t have to have sold a million records. Your favorite band could be a band that put out two seven-inches. You know what I’m saying? It’s completely possible. It’s also possible to meet these people at a show, to go up and talk to them. I feel really really excited that I’ve been able to have a lot of conversation and even make friends with people who have completely changed my life. And now I’m in a position where I’ve been starting to interview them.

Last week, I interviewed Tim Kasher of Cursive and that was super exciting. We’ve become acquaintances just from living in Los Angeles and seeing each other at shows and having mutual friends, but this was an opportunity for me to have an actual conversation with him and sort of “fan out” on him about the Saddle Creek days in the early 2000s and the Omaha scene and how much that influenced me and how much that whole scene meant to me.

I got to tell him about when I saw Cursive play on [Late Show with David] Letterman. Whenever you see a band that comes from punk in some sort of way, whether you know them or not personally, but when you see them do something like play on Letterman, you feel like it’s a win for all of us. Like, they did it. They got to do this cool thing.  With all the things that are kind of circulating in my mind, I’m always thrilled when I get the chance to meet somebody from this world that had made an impression on me.

Even when recording this new album Ross Robinson, he’s someone who has played a major in my life since I was a kid. I liked Korn when they first came out. I loved Sepultura, Glassjaw, At the Drive In, Blood Brothers. All these records meant so much to me throughout my life, and now I get to make a record with the guy. I’m a huge Leonard Cohen fan, and I found out when we were in the studio that the microphone that I was singing into, Leonard Cohen sang the entire record The Future on that microphone.

It blows my entire god damned mind. So like, I’m still having these experiences. And I don’t think I’ll ever be numb to them. I don’t think I’ll ever take them for granted. It’s all exciting to me and I don’t think it will ever not be. If it does start to feel less exciting to me than I don’t like who I will have become at that point.

Right. You’ll just do something else.
Absolutely.  I used to always joke that my backup plan is to be a postal worker because I love doing mail order stuff so much and I love the process. I think a dream job for me is just putting me in the back of the sorting room and putting my headphones in and just sorting mail for eight hours a day. It sounds great to me! But at the same time, we’re in a situation where we might not have a post office anymore. [Laughs]

Oh, so you need a back up for your back up plan.
Even my back up plan has fallen apart. You would never think that something like the postal service would be jeopardized, but you get Donald Trump in office and here we are.    

Photo courtesy of Touche Amore

Preorder a copy of Lament from Epitaph here.

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