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The Rigid Cuts, Sharp Turns & Improvised Spirit of Open Head

Earlier this month, the Kingston-based experimental rock four-piece Open Head released their anticipated debut album, Joy, and Other Sufferinjoys, through the newly-founded Los Angeles-based label I'm Into Life Records. Breaking through the band's wildly eclectic and towering song structures of unpredictable turns and jagged textures, we caught up with them to discuss the recording of the new album and the unexpected sonic territory they explore.

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Following their superb 2019 demo tape, Open Head delivers a gut-punch of maniacal guitars and ferocious, tightly-zipped grooves across their anticipated debut album Joy, and Other Sufferings. Forming in late 2018, the Kingston-based experimental rock outfit is co-fronted by guitarists Jared Ashdown and Brandon Minervini while backed by bassist Jon McCarthy and new drummer Matt Norman, where their twisty songs are held together with superlative skills and chemistry.

Released through the newly-founded Los Angeles-based label, I'm Into Life Records, earlier this month, the debut album is filled with heady and striking song structures with off-kilter time signatures and spiraling riffage. Recorded alongside producer D. James Goodwin (Muzz, Kevin Morby) at the Isokon Studio in Woodstock, New York, Joy, and Other Sufferings is a 43-minute, frenetic voyage of raw brutality, angular guitars and propulsive, stop-start rhythms. Between tracks like the ragged yet tight lead single "Head Talk" and the highly technical centerpiece "Life Support," the debut album is a gripping and jittery sonic terrain, bringing out the natural colors of the band, while showing them at the top of their game.

After we premiered the video to "Head Talk" back in October, we were itching to hear more from Open Head and had the chance to catch up with them to discuss the debut album and the unexpected sonic territory they explore.

Paperface Zine: Hey congrats on the release of your debut album Joy, and Other Sufferings! It's been an album we were anticipating sine getting the early taste last fall! So what have you been up to since finishing the recording the album?

Open Head: Hey! Thank you so much for having us. We've all been growing through a lot of changes in our lives here in Kingston. Recently everyone started living together and it's been a really beautiful experience. Also been deep in the writing process since we finished this album. We're actually getting ready to hit the studio again in a couple weeks to record some of what we've been working on. How did Open Head start and what was the vision when forming?

We were all living in Woodstock, NY together with our previous drummer Mattia Lusto (who plays on the album). We'd attempt to play "songs" in our living room together for fun, and finally we just decided we'd try to write things that we liked. Jon had been a close friend already and expressed that he could play bass. We clicked immediately and this was all in In late 2018. There was no real vision other than exploring a love for music together... You can only keep a bunch of music trapped in your head for so long until it starts to hurt.

Do any of you maintain other musical projects?

Jon has a solo project called Town Jeweler, who has a new release out on Bandcamp, and also plays in a project called Dynamics with Jared and Brandon. Jared records solo as J. Form who also just recently put something out on Bandcamp. Our new drummer Matt was in Lily and Horn Horse, but now makes music under Insane Angel (also dropping a record soon with Ani from Palberta!). Woah, didn't know that, we loved that Palberta record from last year! I definitely hear a bit of Unwound and U.S. Maple in Open Head. Lay on us some of your musical influences.

We definitely love those two in particular! Our taste is kind of all over the place... so boiling it down to specific influences is tough. Andre 3000, Captain Beefheart, Helvetia, Landowner, and an obnoxiously long list of others. Ha we love Don and you could certainly hear his influence here too. Tell us, what does a typical Open Head recording session look like?

An abundance of hugs, poor attempts at Brooklyn Italian accents, and too many smoke breaks.

How do you think you've developed as a band since your 2019 demo tape?

We found clearer direction in our song writing process. Leaving things to chance, writing exercises, long long drives listening to improvisations from practice and picking apart what we liked and putting it together. Everything is much more free compared to how our songs were back then. We're just totally different people now, and the songs should reflect that. Seeking to make what we want to listen to I guess. If somebody asked you on the street to describe Open Head’s style in only two words, what would you tell them? Matt says Guitharsis and Rhythmicipline. We're gonna rock with that.

How did you get connected with our friend Ethan Hoffman of I'm Into Life Records and what has it been like working with him to get this record out?

We met Ethan while living in Woodstock back in 2018. We connected immediately on music (thanks, Duster!) and spent a lot of time playing, writing, and driving haha. He's the type of person that loves hard, and constantly makes an effort to be in your corner. We couldn't ask for a better friend. We started working with him the minute he started thinking about putting I'm Into Life together. He reached out and expressed that he wanted to start a label. We jumped on the phone together and said "How can we help?" It was a no brainer decision to work with someone who's already so close. There's a lot of stories regarding the weirdness that exists in this industry — mainly favoring artists that fit specific images. I'm Into Life is a label that rejects that. Ethan is someone who genuinely loves music and wants to see people get a fair chance. That's why we love working with him! Really excited for what else he has in store for the label. Across this debut, you pull listeners into your complexly interwoven and layered, angular world. Where did you record it and what was the recording and mixing process like for it?

We recorded it with our friend D. James Goodwin at The Isokon in Woodstock. He approached us about doing some sessions together so we met a couple times to talk and we really just hit off. He was already a friend of members of the band which made it a seamless process. Recording and mixing at The Isokon felt like a dream. Words can't really do his space justice. Best left to experiences in person. What was it like working with D. James Goodwin who's been behind releases from artists like Kevin Morby and the indie rock supergroup Muzz.

Recording and mixing with Dan is painless, experimental, and welcoming. His attention to detail and love for recording live and raw help shaped this record entirely. Shooting ideas back and forth and staying true to the improvisational process made it feel pretty special. He's a weirdo like us, you know? We'll be getting back together with him again for another one some day.

Were there any songs on this release that turned out way different than their initial idea?

Oh man, none of the songs turned out the way we thought they would. Everything was kind of evolving until the last minute. We spent a lot of time going back and forth on every part making sure that it was true to the way we felt at the time. We had to get a bit of a grip on ourselves because there was always a feeling of "Oh I can do this better." Eventually you have to just come to terms with your art and just keep it moving. Honestly, hearing the entire record recorded and mixed was what surprised us most. We had always played these songs in our tiny little practice space in Kingston. It's a tough room to get a good sound out of so hearing these songs in a proper space really just blew us away. That oh-shit moment of saying to yourself "Damn, we really did it." How did you approach the songwriting here? What things are likely to inspire you to write and how do your original ideas develop into songs?

Improvisation. Hours and hours and hours of improvising until we hear things we like. Then it's just sitting down and assembling piece by piece as a group. We're always hearing little melodies or sketches in our heads so creating a space for them to just fall out has worked best for us. The first and last tracks on the album were entirely improvised in the studio. The lyrics were written collectively by the band too. We took bits and pieces from conversations, journal entries, personal experiences and tried to give them life. Joy, and Other Sufferings was written during the height of the pandemic in 2020 so we took a lot of inspiration from the internal and external amongst us during that time. Who did the cover art? I think it's a perfect representation considering how sprawling these twelve tracks are.

We all did it together as a group collage project! Jon and Mattia are incredible painters. Jared and Brandon like to try. What has it been like translating these tracks live? You just had your album launch this past weekend in Kingston and I remember also seeing you play a show with Bodega at The Mercury Lounge in New York City last fall.

We recorded the album live so it has always been somewhat of a fluid process. If anything, we started to experiment with them and break the standard. Extending sections or speeding up songs. It's all fun for us to finally be playing this material. Since Matt joined the band late last year, it's been interesting to push the songs into new places. We're excited to show what we've been working on lately in the near future. Every show we play typically has an element of improv somewhere in it. Inspiration is everywhere, so we try to capture that in our live performance. Also, playing with Bodega was a total trip. That band is special in all the right ways. Brandon and Nikki [Belfiglio] of Bodega actually grew up across the street from each other! Small world type-beat. There's a video someone took of our set out there on Instagram somewhere. We improvised an entire song in between tunings. Maybe we'll write it? We hope there'll be more between us and Bodega in the future. What has it been like playing live music again? Also what else can we expect from you soon? More live shows? Honestly, it's been really fun but really weird at the same time. It feels like a privilege to be able to be in a room with people again. The pandemic creates a very stop-and-go kind of dance when it comes to being active and inactive. We're looking to hit the road finally this year and do some extensive touring. Finger's crossed that things continue to get better in regards to the pandemic, and spaces become safe again. We got three shows coming up starting next week on March 3 with a free show at No Fun in Troy with Cronies and Bloodx3. Then we got a house show coming up on March 5 at The Tubs in Brooklyn with Kolb and Mellon Collie and then we're playing the Tall Grass on March 18 in New Paltz with Tiny Blue Ghost, False Pockets and Furnace Creek. Should be a great time! We can't wait to announce the next thing soon... we've been working hard.

Joy, and Other Sufferings is out now through I'm Into Life Records.

Stream the new album below.

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