Interview: Loma Prieta’s Sean Leary Talks About ‘Last’

The San Francisco-area punk group Loma Prieta capture blinding currents of fury and gentler segues into acknowledging life with the pain they’re confronting on their new album Last, out now on Deathwish Inc.

Styled to be scorching in line with warmly classic screamo, where the instrumentals sometimes sound themselves as hoarse as the intense vocalists in the style’s main iteration, Last’s rhythms lunge and twist, suggesting rage and desperation but also that moment when the initial break, whatever it is, happens.

On this album, Loma Prieta comprehensively utilize an idea of building up to the breaks of wrath and frustration. It’s an active portrait. You didn’t just wake up this way, with Last instead steeped in a broad palette of life’s difficult and damaging experiences. These elements coalesce into a powerful and intimidating hurricane that is both awe-inspiring in its musical expansiveness and sharply piercing in its instrumental and lyrical force.

Last sounds very persistent, even if the rhythms provide weighty knocks to your stability that seem very realistic to how it is to be confronted with the social problems—and how those resonate personally—that Loma Prieta explore. Should the focus be more on keeping life going, you could imagine the quieter moments as the default resting place that the band have built towards, and yet, those musical lightning blasts keep coming. The consistency in the all-encompassing frenzy to which Last returns can be comforting, since at least you understand the truth necessary for building any kind of new normal.

The slower moments take such prominence that, to use an easy shorthand for the kind of pain that Last captures, you might know—or at least need to acknowledge the likelihood—that they’re not coming back, whoever that other would be for you. In that, though, the music also seems rallying. It’s something with space for emotional exploration, whether that’s running into people at a show or hashing it out with those closest to you.

Below, see what guitarist/vocalist Sean Leary has to say about Last, this latest album from Loma Prieta. Leary is joined in the band by drummer Valeriano Saucedo, guitarist Brian Kanagaki, and bassist James Siboni.

Does Last reflect inspiration coming from what’s basically a lot of personal emotion for you guys? It sounds like y’all were looking inward quite a bit, musically and thematically.

Yeah, I think that’s our general approach, so it’s not necessarily new to this record. We tend towards melodies that express a certain melancholy or heaviness; the lyrics have usually fallen in line with that. That’s my hope when writing anyway. At the same time, there are a few songs on Last that reflect more on larger societal issues, which is a departure for us. We’ve always been more or less non-political. The state of the world feels chaotic to the point where, for me as a lyricist, there’s a looming sense of panic about the state of the world anytime I sit to write. Even very personal subjects are interacting with the knowledge that the world as we know it is in decline, which is basically driven by government and corporate corruption.

Having been a band for this long, do you feel like you have to grapple much with people’s expectations associated with your music?

If anything, it’s exciting for us to have expectations about our music, to defy. That’s kind of the nature of punk music, or at least our perception of it, the side of punk we’re interested in. For myself, what drew me into this type of music in the first place was the innovation and creative risk-taking that was going on. That’s still what excites me about punk and is still a driving force in some punk and hardcore music communities.

There’s a certain confidence in having been a band for so long, I think we inherently trust in our own vision, so the objective is much more clearly defined and about us being happy with the music than anything else. That said, it took us a very long time to finish a new LP because we kept writing and demoing songs that we would decide just needed more work, or weren’t right in some way. We develop as listeners as we develop as musicians, so our tendency to self-edit is probably stronger than in past years. Meeting our own expectations is the hard part, it turns out.

The styles with which Loma Prieta has often been associated seem, of course, particularly community-oriented. What do you feel like your relationship to punk and screamo is like these days? In other words, do you feel inspired in some of these latest creations by those traditions, or has it been more about looking elsewhere and adding to the palette?

We’re inspired by innovative, heavy music, but our inspiration doesn’t end there. As far as genre specifications like “screamo,” I don’t think we necessarily ever chose that as our box to be in. My feeling is that specific term was coined as a disparaging way of talking about unconventional hardcore of a certain era. We also have never actively tried to tell people what genre we are. And we listen to so many types of music, which probably seeps into what we make. That said, yeah, we keep up with what’s going on with all kinds of music, and I’m sure we’re pulling inspiration from punk bands we listen to as much as rap we listen to, ambient music we listen to, all kinds of things. I know that when we are touring together, the music played in the van is such a wide array of stuff, things people wouldn’t expect by listening to us. It all informs our songwriting.

How critical do you feel the live show is in your experience of making this music? Is performing these songs live something that you’re kind of always anticipating?

When it comes time to get ready for shows, I always kind of wish we’d considered what the songs we’d written are going be like to perform live. Like, we sometimes write music that’s really ambitious to pull off in a live setting. I find a real disconnect between the creative part of music and performance; they’re coming from two different parts of the brain or something. For me, at least. When we’re writing music, all we really care about is the objectification of the idea, making something that’s exactly what we want to hear. I’m glad we do it that way, but there are challenges in not limiting ourselves in the writing and recording process.

I really enjoy both writing and performing, but have realized in the past decade or so that writing and recording music is where I personally find the most satisfaction, and feel more expert. That may be because we toured so much for years that things felt really out of balance. I would find myself on the road feeling like something was lacking all the time. Now that we’ve spent way less time touring and more time writing (and rewriting) so many songs, it’s really exciting that we’re going to get to go tour these new songs. There is something symbiotic about the two; it’s hard to find the right balance between them.

Loma Prieta has, of course, been at this for some time now. What sorts of things do you feel like keep you coming back? The opportunity for personal expression? The camaraderie with others in the band and in the circles in which Loma Prieta operates? Something else?

That’s a tough one. I’d describe it almost as a compulsion. For me, as I’ve gotten older, music-making has stayed equally exciting, but my identity is way less tied up in it. When this band started, we were in our early 20s; now we’re… not. So it’s funny; most of our peers from when the band started are no longer playing actively in bands. And I completely understand why they aren’t. It’s a very complicated and time-consuming pursuit, and it’s not so much about fun as satisfaction, or just feeling like you have something intangible that you need to communicate. I feel really lucky to have something that compels me to such a degree, but it’s a blessing and a curse. I think, too, we really are like family at this point and life is so busy the band gives us a reason to make time for each other, which feels important.

Do you feel like the process of actually transmitting your musical ideas into the songs you see—or hear, I should say—in front of you has gotten perhaps easier over the years you’ve been involved in this? Or is it still maybe an elongated process?

I wish it had gotten easier. I do think we are better at figuring out how to record our ideas; sonically, we just know more about what we want, how to get there in the recording process, and our ears are more refined than they were 18 years ago when the band started. Creatively as songwriters, I think as we gain more musical knowledge about what works and what doesn’t, we lose other positive attributes of our earlier naïveté. I seem to recall that with earlier records we had more manic belief that every completed song was perfect. Now I listen back and hear all kinds of things I’d change, knowing what I know now. I think we were in a “riff after riff” mode early in, now we try to write songs that have more of an arc, but maintain the same energy we had since the beginning. After a lot of back and forth, demoing, throwing some songs away, reworking others, I think we got there in the end with the new record and it feels like a real victory.

As folks who’ve been involved in music for a long time, do you feel the environment for maybe up-and-coming bands playing styles similar to your own has gotten easier? More difficult? Some of both?

That’s really hard to quantify I guess. I’ve played in several new bands over the years, Loma Prieta has always been my focus since we started but I’ve been in at least two bands at any given time for the past 20-plus years.

I’ve noticed that for new bands now, at least the ones I’ve started kind of recently, it feels like there is more demand for constant content than was expected back 15 or 20 years ago. So for new bands, you release a record, and it gets attention, but only for two weeks; it’s easy to get lost in the sea of new music on the internet. So it takes a lot of strategy to stay in people’s view and I personally couldn’t give a fuck about strategizing, it’s just not in my wheelhouse, but I realize it’s a skill everyone probably needs to have these days unless they have a label or someone external handling it.

I think this is true across all types of music and media, so it’s not specific to post-hardcore or whatever you want to call it. But the social media driven idea of generating new content all the time is as present in independent music as anywhere else.

That said, so many avenues have opened up for bands through technology and social media. Loma Prieta started during the MySpace era, which was really the beginning of technology and DIY beginning to intermingle. I was in bands prior to that, and to book shows we’d literally have to mail demo tapes to venues, shit like that. So I was really excited when things began to shift in ways that made exposure a little easier. What’s happening now is just a continuation of that, kind of like everything in our culture you sometimes ask if technology has gone too far and is hurting or helping.

You can order the album from Deathwish, Inc. Follow Loma Prieta on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more updates.

Photo courtesy of Loma Prieta 

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