INTERVIEW

Ross Farrar isn’t into iCulture. Nor could he give a shit about pleasing his hardcore fans

ceremony

“Follow the signs and queue in an orderly fashion, please,” says a uniformed supervisor stood on top of a rocky outcrop. Below him, struggling up the mountain, an unending line of people send one last text message, download one final app and watch one last YouTube clip of an adorable cat before they reach the crusted lip of the hissing volcano. There, they throw their mobile phones into a swirling pit of molten fire and liquid sim-cards. BlackBerrys and iPhones bleep into oblivion as they’re tossed into the Earth’s white-hot cake-hole. They smile.

This is Ceremony front man Ross Farrar’s vision of the future – a little embellished – and I can hear him grinning down the phone at the thought of it. “There’s probably going to be some kind of revolt or revolution one of these days, when everyone throws their cell phones into a volcano and go off to join some commune,” he confirms in a half-joke. I say half-joke because sat rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, speaking from a New York coffee shop, Farrar sounds pretty serious, and because his hardcore-punk band aren’t exactly known for their comedy. “You know, like Zorro, when those guys all went up into the hills, there’s going to be some shit like that happening.”

On our initial introduction it’s hard not to paint Farrar and his gang as some kind of militant-technophobes railing against the modern world. But the point he’s trying to hammer home is a simple one: innovations in technology may mean we can geographically map the nearest Clinton Cards from our toilet seat, but it’s at the expense of one important thing – real human interaction. “Every day I’m walking around at my university and I don’t even see people look up at me – they’re staring at their phones the whole time,” he elaborates. “It’s supposed to be a collegial place. You’re supposed to talk and converse with each other, but people don’t do that, they just get out of their cars, go into class, look at their cell phones. It’s like down the street too. You don’t really see many people making eye contact. I mean, guys don’t ask girls out on dates anymore. It’s kind of a weird situation now – technology is a big part of us isolating ourselves from one another.”

This theme, this burrowing annoyance, you may have guessed, informs much of Ceremony’s new album, ‘Zoo’. “People can be assholes to each other all the time,” Farrar fumes. “It just amazes me the way people treat each other.” You can almost hear him shake his head as someone checks into FourSquare next to him.

One safe assumption then – Ceremony won’t be writing their next album using HTML or collaborating with Bjork on any interactive software. In fact, for those new to the band, they have an old fashioned approach. And an old fashioned story. The five frustrated suburban (Rohnert Park, San Francisco) teenagers formed a snotty hardcore band with the intention of living their lives by code, playing some blistering live shows and telling everyone how fucked everything is in the process. They succeeded. Their first two albums, ‘Violence Violence’ and ‘Still Nothing Moves You’, were justifiably saluted as hard, fast, noisy jewels. 2010’s ‘Rohnert Park’, though, was a very different character – still angry, but this time much more melodic (it’s still a racket). The softening in sound pissed some fans off, and the band loved that. So much so they’ve now signed with Matador Records (the home of Fucked Up, Kurt Vile and Cold Cave) and updated their timeline with an even more melodic fourth album, ‘Zoo’, due out next month.

“You can’t write the same record four times. Listen to ‘Zoo’, then listen to our first record and you’ll hear a drastic change,” explains Farrar, who generally spends Ceremony’s live shows climbing speakers.  “It’s a natural thing to do. Maybe fans won’t like it or maybe they will – regardless, they’re going to have to listen to it.” That’s not to say the band – completed by Anthony Anzaldo, Andy Nelson, Justin Davis and Jake Casarotti – have completely sacked off their hardcore roots. ‘Zoo’ is still a seething record; it’s just one that moves them further away from pure sonic assaults and towards something more accessible. Farrar even admits he doesn’t like making the albums, he prefers playing live but says ‘Zoo’ is the “weirdest” and “strangest” one they’ve made in their eight years together. “The lyrical content was a bit more ambiguous this time because it leaves a little mystery,” he says. “People have to think about them more.” True, it’s not all quite as self-explanatory as the flagship track on ‘Rohnert Park’, ‘Sick’ (Sample lyrics: “Sick of living in America/Sick of mass hysteria/Sick of hardcore/Sick of mankind”), but you don’t have to be Poirot to work out what collective theme bonds brilliant tracks like ‘Hysteria’, ‘Citizen’ and ‘Community Service’. Despair. Responsibility. Duty.

But ‘Zoo’ isn’t the first time Ceremony have looked to civilisation to find inspiration. Back in the mid-2000s, Farrar wanted to record a new audiozine. He set foot onto the streets of San Francisco to interview complete strangers (the recordings of which appeared on ‘Rohnert Park’) and was surprised by the response. “It was half and half,” he says of peoples’ willingness to open up. “Some were opposed to it, the other half were OK. I got some really weird ones about guys cheating on their wives for the first time and stuff – very private things. It was crazy – the things these people were just telling me!”

All of which makes Ceremony sound like an angry social experiment, which it kind of is: a crusade led by Farrar to confront conformity, ignite reactions and generally take a long hard look at ourselves. Don’t Tweet them, Poke them, Like them, Share them… just join them. They won’t thank you for it.

By Ernesto Rivera

Originally published in issue 35 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012

Next Interview »