To exist, as Ross Farrar does, in a constant state of metamorphosis could be life- sapping. As the frontman of Ceremony, he finds solace in the turbulence of change.
There is almost no entry point to the band’s canon of work. Start in 2006 and you’ll hear deafening disorder; a bludgeoning of abrasive hardcore likened to Infest or Coke Bust. Start today and you will be disarmed by chimerical jangles and lulled musings of love lost. Their dichotomising sounds match their inability to stand still. “It’s been a whirlpool,” Farrar sighs heavily, as if unable to understand how he’s managed to achieve all he has. “I’m one of those people that wishes time would slow down just for a minute to enjoy the time we have on earth. But it’s all so momentary.”
Since Ceremony’s inception in 2005, the band – for which Farrar is joined by Anthony Anzaldo, Andy Nelson, Justin Davis and Jake Casarotti – have released three EPs and are readying themselves for the drop of their fifth studio album, The L-Shaped Man. Formed in Rohnert Park, California, Ceremony fast became hardcore deities. Their first slew of records, including Violence Violence and the Bridge-9 approved Still Nothing You, were short, voracious stabs of Tragedy-esque battery, each barely surpassing a minute in length. At first regarded as “hardcore’s equivalent to Hiroshima,” they fused the botched dissonance of power violence with the skeletal refrain of old- school punk.
Come 2010, Ceremony had changed. They released Rohnert Park, a considerable departure from the velocity of Violence Violence and a brazen mellowing of sound. Come 2011, Ceremony had changed again. Having signed to Matador Records, the band were paralleled to the likes of Wire and 80s post-punk satirists such as Mark E Stewart. By the time they released their fourth LP, Zoo, in 2012, we were faced with a band so familiar by name yet so polemically different. “Everything has changed,” Farrar concedes, “but I still participate in punk and go to punk shows and collect punk records. That’s all still inherent. But just going into a room with the guys in Ceremony, we end up producing sounds in a way that I can never explain. We never go into a record thinking ‘this is exactly how we want it to sound’ or ‘this is how we want it to be.’
“But it’s hard to say whether it’s a progression or not, because it’s a complete change in sound. That’s the key point. We started as a punk band and now it’s manifested itself into this soft, dreamy sound. It just felt natural for us to do that. I guess this style of music has always existed in our canon of work somewhere.”
It’s been three years since Zoo, two of which Farrar regards as some of the worst in his life. “I think about Zoo now and I was in such a different place in my life. I don’t remember 2012 as much as I should. We were touring a lot and I was on the verge of a break-up. I was going through a lot of turmoil at the time.”
"Ceremony wasn’t anything that I planned out. It was something that I stumbled into when I was younger and now it’s such a big part of my life"
But Farrar’s pain in these subsequent break-up years is what directed The L-Shaped Man; a record scored by hysteric remorse. It sounds like a band trying to shed the sorrows of their past. “The songs on this record call for sadness. It was perfect the way it worked out really, because I was going through all of this shit and the songs were so melancholic. I guess The L-Shaped Man is a product of that time,” he laughs with an air of affectionate humility.
Ceremony wasn’t anything that I planned out. It was something that I stumbled into when I was younger and now it’s such a big part of my life. When we play a show, I black out and I put all that I have into Ceremony. Especially with this record, I thought about whether it would conjure any kind of lost unwanted emotion. Playing these songs at certain times could be hard. I may feel affected by that and it could show publicly.
But I’m feeling a lot better now and it’s kind of morphing into a more nostalgic feeling. A lot of times when you go through something that’s hard, especially with love, there’s that cliché of having a wound. Usually a wound scabs up, you heal and you can look back on these things in a reminiscent sort of way. I’ve let go a lot of the pain there. It’s not all sorrow. That’s kind of the thesis of the record too. You have these terrible things that happen to you but they end and you get through it. You can always get through it.”
While heartache remained the topical discourse for The L-Shaped Man, Farrar’s original premise was influenced by the lifework of artist Leslie Lerner. “I’d seen a painting by him in San Francisco Airport and was really moved,” he recalls. “After studying his work I found we had a quite a few similarities. He died in 2006 but I contacted his wife. I really wanted to talk to her about him and to possibly use one of his paintings for a record cover. That idea was aborted because the painting was a little too abstract and I didn’t think people would relate to it as it was a single, very simple, minimalistic image.” While the initial album artwork never came to fruition, Farrar reveals that he’s hoping to work on a project with Lerner’s widow, perhaps a series of interviews, in order to further explore this tapestry of inspiration.
It’s every facet of Farrar’s artistic license that makes The L-Shaped Man so significant. With introspective lyricism, leanings towards the abstract, and the band’s perennial will to evolve, Ceremony are proving that no band should fester in the restrictions of genre. Without the likes of Ceremony, punk would simply plateau. “There are a lot of bands who play the same style of music,” Farrar persists, “and they worship this one band and try to sound like that for as long as possible and they don’t do anything else above that. I think they feel like if they change their sound, people will leave them behind. When you’re in a place where Ceremony is, playing to a fanbase, it’s scary to think that no one’s going to like you anymore. It’s a really strange feeling. But then there are bands, such as ours, who say you’re going to have to deal with it, because this is the art we’re trying to create. You can either leave it behind or you can carry along with it.”
The L-Shaped Man is released 18 May via Matador Records. Ceremony appear at Visions, London, 8 August