Interview with vocalist Jesse Korman and guitarist Alexis Pareja | By Thomas Pizzola | Photos by Karen Jerzyk
When New Jersey mathcore stalwarts The Number Twelve Looks Like You originally went on a hiatus in 2010 due to tour-related burnout, the plan was to eventually reconvene at a later date, refreshed and refocused, and release some new music.
That’s exactly what they did.
The band, which features original members vocalist Jesse Korman and guitarist Alexis Pareja, along with new recruits drummer Michael Kadnar and bassist DJ Scully, started touring again in 2016. Now, a decade after the release of their previous album, Worse Than Alone, the band will unleash a new one, Wild Gods, on Sept. 20 via Overlord Music.
Wild Gods broadens their sound a bit without diluting any of their mathcore fury. It’s also their most consistent album and features lyrics that were formed by Korman’s travels over the 10 years since their last release.
With all this activity going on in the The Number Twelve Looks Like You camp, Korman and Pareja took a breather to discuss their split, their comeback, their new album, and how the music biz has changed since the last time they were a fully functioning band.
Why did the band originally decide to take a break in 2010? What were the reasons for the original split?
Korman: We decided it was our time. It was a good run, and we wanted to go out with dignity. One thing we never wanted to do was keep going and going till we had nothing left to give. We were always at 100 our whole career, and we were running on fumes by the end. So, we knew it was a wrap. To live 10 years of your youth in a touring band and come back home after each tour not knowing what to do besides working odd jobs makes you crazy. It’s the band bubble: when you’re in it, it’s amazing, everything is great, but when you’re out of the bubble and in the real world, you have nothing to show for the last 10 years. It was time to discover ourselves.
What made you decide to come back in 2016?
Korman: One thing I always felt after writing [2009’s] Worse Than Alone was, “This couldn’t be our last album.” I personally felt like I still had so much more to say and that we had music that still needed to be written. In 2010, when we called it quits, I knew it wasn’t the time to write that album. Not then, not yet. We needed this break to have a good perspective on life and real appreciation for things.
What made you decide to record Wild Gods? Was there any trepidation about going back into the studio after 10 years? Did you have any concerns that the new album wouldn’t be up to the quality of your past ones?
Korman: Like I previously said, Alex and I felt like we still had another album in us that needed to be heard. Throughout the years of the breakup, we would stay in touch and loosely speak about new #12, not ever thinking we would do it—until we were like, “OK, it’s finally time.” There was no concern about going into the studio and tracking, as the four of us felt beyond ready for it. We knew, between all of us, that we would make something absolutely crushing or it wouldn’t go out to the world. I never thought about trying to top the quality of the previous albums, because they will always be so uniquely special and stay that way. I wanted to parallel that, make extensions of those albums instead of trying to be better than before.
How do you think Wild Gods is different from your previous albums?
Korman: I think this album has the most song structure of any album we have ever done. I also feel like every single song truly contributes to the bigger picture; they all have a real meaning, and there are no filler songs. I’ll be honest and say I feel like we have had a few songs on previous albums that I could have done away with, but not this album. Song after song, they just punish. Also, the album, in a visual stance, is hands down the best work we have ever done.
Is it important for the band to change things up a bit musically from release to release? Is pushing your music into new sonic territories a priority?
Korman: Absolutely. Again, it’s never about trying to be “better” or more technical, like trying to keep track of a time signature. It’s about telling a story in a passionate way, something that moves you. We hear stories all day every day; it’s the single thing that connects us to our ancestors, and it’s what lives past us all: our stories. So, if we are able to tell you one through music, in a way you’ve never heard before, then I would definitely say that is a priority for us.
What do the lyrics address? Were you trying to go more overtly political, more personal, or a combination of both?
Korman: The lyrics to the new album are a bit of everything. They are a hybrid of voices, including mine, from around the world who have things to say and real issues to address. It’s been almost 10 years of writing words, writing things I’ve observed as injustices, things I’ve personally been affected by. They are emotional, and they are real: real stories from a young poet in Syria whose mountain was invaded by ISIS to diseased children in Africa who have no clean water but still have a smile on their face every day to the built-up rage toward priests abusing their power. I’m trying to give a voice to the ones who need to be heard in the most powerful way that I can deliver it.
I know jazz is a big influence on your sound. How much do these non-metal or -hardcore sounds inform your music?
Korman: We all primarily listen to music that is not heavy, and I’m sure that inspires sounds that fall outside of the metal genre. I am greatly influenced not only by the music I’ve heard and studied while traveling but also the experiences I have on a day-to-day basis. When I compose, I envision the atmosphere of what I’m trying to create. It has to equally bring the listener in to that space, and a way to test that is to see how everyone in the band feels when they first hear the demos [or] rough drafts.
Pareja: If the general consensus is lacking excitement, I will often be the first to scrap or rewrite it all together. Jazz is a genre I continue to study personally, amongst others, but it is not intentionally injected into the music just for the sake of having a different sound. Naturally, when you explore harmony, rhythm, and melodic construction in greater depths, you are bound to find interesting colors and feels. These elements are what generally resonate with me. However, in the end, I prefer it be simply experienced just as music that moves you and not mere concepts.
Since you’ve been away, much has changed in the music biz. The way people listen to music has changed drastically with the rise of social media and streaming services. How has the band adapted to these changes? Is there anything you miss about the era before streaming and social media overload?
Korman: Yes, it sure has changed a lot, but no, I don’t miss how things “used to be.” I think music has found so many platforms for being discovered, and I personally think it’s great. I would never ever be able to find the amount of bands I do now back then. Back then, it was word of mouth, and it would be almost impossible to find it online sometimes. Now, it’s, like, one minute or less [and] you can find anything you heard about. Music is great and wonderful. Everyone should be exposed to music all day and every day. It is the only thing that can make you laugh and cry and be angry and be emotional, yet you can’t even see it. It’s wonderful to have such easy access now.
How will the band function as a touring entity? Do you plan to hit the road hard again, or are you going to be more selective in the amount of touring you do?
Korman: It’s absolutely going to be more selective now. Back then, you toured nonstop around the year for the exposure, for people who would have never found you before to find you. Now, you are discovered so much easier, [through] viral video or added to a new playlist on Spotify. You don’t need to beat yourselves up and be touring around the clock. Keep it special and do shows every once in a while; don’t oversaturate yourselves.
How do you plan to make the most out of the band’s second wind?
Korman: As teens and early 20-[somethings], we had a lot to prove. We would try to follow the rules to getting “big,” and we would also try to break them to stand out. We really had all our eggs in that basket of “making it.” Sometimes, I think that held us back so we could be more accepted, but this time, we have nothing to lose and we have nothing to prove. We have something to say and on our own terms.