The Sound Alarm Interview: Terrible Things

September 22, 2010
by Michael Skehan
Terrible Things - Fred Mascherino

Pictured: Fred Mascherino of Terrible Things at the Minnesota date of the 2010 Vans Warped Tour. Photo By: Matt Nistler for The Sound Alarm

Mike Skehan: So how is everything going, dude?

Fred Mascherino: Oh, it’s awesome. It’s release day so there’s nothing more exciting than having an album come out. We’re running around doing some record store acoustic stuff and then a big show tomorrow night in my hometown out in Westchester, PA. We played Philly last Friday and we just played Josh’s hometown over the weekend. It’s fun, man. We have a lot going on and lots to be exciting about.

M: Is it a relief for the album to finally be released?

F: Oh, heck yeah. Relief is a good word. I started working on this record almost a year and a half ago and Josh and the guys got involved last fall. It was a mammoth project because it’s a concept album, which I’ve never really taken on before. Any album is a lot of work, but this was probably the hardest I’ve ever had to work, so to see it actually on a shelf in a store is amazing.

M: Definitely. Well let’s start off talking about the formation of the band.

F: I was on tour playing acoustic solo work with my Color Fred project and Andy was at the club in Alabama where I was playing. We had met before but didn’t know each other that well. After the set he came up and said, “Hey man, I really like your guitar playing and your songs, we should jam sometime.” He lived in Alabama and I lived in Philly so I didn’t think he was being that serious(laughs). The day I got home I called him and said “Did you really want to do a band together? I can send you some demos.” As soon as he started listening to the demos he called me back and said,“I’m in.” He basically flew up to my house and stayed for a month and we worked on songs. We played with a bunch of different drummers and bassists and finally convinced my favorite drummer, Josh Eppard, to get involved. That’s how the three of us came together and I couldn’t be happier. It’s been a really neat thing because we all have a lot of experience but our experiences were all very different. We are sort of covering a lot of areas, as far as what I might be good at doing, Josh is better at something else. When we put it together…I’m working with two other songwriters who have ten years of touring experience. It’s been very awesome in that respect.

M: So would you say there was a bit of a learning curve adjusting to the different things everybody brought into the band?

F: Like any band, we had to learn to play together and we’re still learning that. In the beginning, that was where the producer came in. We actually recorded down in Alabama with Jason Elgin who recently did Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, who are friends of mine. He was just good at putting it together and using each person’s strengths and avoiding any fights because it can be hard to fit all of those pieces together. He had a good handle on what it was supposed to be and he was the referee and also the contractor to our architects.

M: So how did you end up working with Jason in the first place?

F: One of my best friends is Ryan Russell; he’s a photographer from Birmingham, AL.  He kept telling me that I needed to check Jason out. When I did, what I liked about it was that…a lot of the guys I knew up north were getting a lot of…the new, hip thing is fake-sounding drums. I didn’t really want that. Josh is one of the best rock drummers in the world, so to take him and put him into this digital, pro-tools situation of fixing up his fills and whatnot and making it perfect, it takes away from what he’s doing. Jason is a southern, older guy who…we would say, “Hey, we want this to sound like Tom Petty” and he would know all of these obscure Petty songs we’d never even heard of. He just brought a lot to the table with his knowledge and was able to understand that this needed to rock, not just have mosh parts to it or something like that.

M: So essentially an old-school, more natural sound?

F: Exactly! It was much more organic sounds. I think it’s really noticeable when you hear it. You’ll say, “Why do I like this?” and I think that’s where Jason comes in. He brings that timeless quality to it that you can’t get if you’re trying to compete and be worried about what’s going on currently. We went down south into this slower way of life and forgot all of that and said, “Let’s just make some good rock.”

M: So do you think that your surroundings while recording the album had an impact on how it turned out?

F: Yeah, definitely. We were fairly sheltered from the world while we were down there because we were recording from the minute we woke up until we went to sleep. Andy brings in a Southern quality to things. He’s got the thickest accent of anybody I’m friends with (laughs). He grew up on a lot of southern rock and country that I’d never heard, so that may have affected it. We were so locked up in the studio. Maybe the people that came in, too. One of Ryan and Jason’s friends, Jacob, played bass on the record. We had a lot of Southern guys around giving their two cents on the record, so that certainly affected it.

M: Will you guys be looking to add a fourth member in as a full-time bassist?

F: Yeah, we’re definitely gonna do that. Because of who were are…I don’t know, we’re taking our time with everything, basically. We’ve had one of Andy’s friends, Jake, playing on the road with us the last few tours. We want to find that guy who is sort of our equal, not just somebody filling the spot temporarily. I can’t wait to find that. It could even be Jake but we’re just trying to take our time with making that decision.

M: You’d said you’ve been working on this album a bit longer than everyone else in the band, so why not just release this as The Color Fred or some other sort of solo album?

F: I feel like all of us were in the same boat. With The Color Fred, I did get it relatively established. Let me start this over. I was most happy when I was touring with just myself and my guitar in that band. The rest of the time, I was basically touring with my friends playing on the instruments. I thought that it was my dream to ride around and play shows with my friends. The problem is a lot of them had never toured before or done any of the things we were doing with The Color Fred. That makes it a bit harder. With Andy and Josh, there are a lot of unspoken rules that we don’t have to go over. It works really well.  Another thing is, somebody like Josh Eppard…there aren’t a lot of people who can understand why I’d leave a band when they are at their peak. Every day I get asked “Why did you leave Taking Back Sunday?” Josh is one of the few people on this earth that doesn’t think I’m crazy. Even my friends have a hard time understanding. It could have gone on to become The Color Fred, but as soon as I met those guys and we started talking, [we knew]. I hadn’t gotten very far in the recording process but I was writing a lot. I said, “You guys have to get in on this and do it, it’s the only way.”

M: So what would you say that each of the individual members brings to the table?

F: Well, Andy is an amazing songwriter. He is bringing the same chops that I am, writing wise. Josh writes, as well, but he comes in and makes the music cool. He thinks of all of the little parts that you can throw in to soup up the song to take it from a good song to being something really great. That’s what I feel. As far as myself, I’m just trying to express myself when I’m writing. I don’t feel like I decide where a song goes, I feel that it just comes out. Luckily those guys dig where it goes.

M: How did the writing process go for this album? You said you’d already been writing, but when you met the other guys did you just get back into it?

F: I would have the basic foundation for the songs already mapped out and Andy had the same thing when he would bring in a song, since there are a couple of songs on the record that he wrote. Anything that we thought could make it better, somebody could speak up about it. I was very open, as was Andy, to any type of changes as far as trying it out to see which version was best. There were a lot of songs that I re-wrote all of the lyrics or maybe I re-wrote a verse because they would say“What are you trying to say here?” If I had to say, “I don’t know, it just rhymed.”, then we said it wasn’t good enough and did it the right way. We just picked it apart and did it the way we’ve all done in our past bands.  Saying “This has got to be better than all of that, let’s get it there.” If it was only as good as what we’d all done before, why would anyone listen to it?

M: Did you have a particular sound in mind when you started writing the album?

F: No. That was the thing. We wanted to play something that rocked and we weren’t that interested in sticking with any type of [sound]. I feel like with a lot of the emo we had played in the past, it was a lot about different or cool sounding parts; maybe a mosh part and a dance-beat. It wasn’t about saying something through all of your songs. That’s what we were always looking for. You can’t get that feeling by working at it. To me, it always has to hit me when I’m sitting at the edge of my bed with an acoustic guitar feeling very unsatisfied or trying to counsel myself through a problem that I’m having. Only then is that feeling cured. I put it to the music and the listener gets it out of that music. It can’t be faked. Although it is faked every day in a lot of the music that you hear and that’s why a lot of music….There are so many bands these days and all of them sound like every other band. If one band has some success then everybody does that style. With this we said, “We don’t want a style, we want songs.” I feel confident in saying that there’s no one out there doing what we’re doing the way that we do it.

M: That being said, was it hard ignoring past influences? Was there a conscious decision to, for example, say “This part sounds too much like a Hot Rod Circuit song, let’s change it”?

F: Actually there was one song of Andy’s called “Wrap Me Up,” which is one of my favorites, where that happened. The rhythm guitars, vocals and drums were done and it got to where I started putting some lead guitars down. I naturally wanted to do this country-ish that that Hot Rod always did, cause Casey from Hot Rod was a great slide player. I started doing some of that and when Andy heard it, he was like, “Ehhhh.” He didn’t want it to be something he had already done, he wanted it to be fresh and new. We went in and re-did all of the leads to make them what they are now. There was a little bit of that, but not too much with me. Since I wasn’t singing in Taking Back Sunday and now I am, there’s a lot more allowance. We were on Warped Tour and we met a lot of young people who didn’t necessarily know a lot of the Coheed or Taking Back Sunday music. Now it’s great because we can do anything we want if people aren’t expecting it to be a certain way. When we were in those bands we had to respect the prior music. With this, we really don’t. We can keep doing what we do. We did a song called “Conspiracy,” which I think we could have never done in our past bands. It’s a very poppy song and I’m practically rapping in certain parts of the song. People really love that song, though. It’s definitely my favorite song. It totally gets me out of my comfort zone, but I wouldn’t have been able to do that if somebody was expecting [something in particular].

M: I was listening to the CD for one of the first few times and that song caught my attention.

F: Yeah, see what I mean? That’s great. We want the listener to say, “Hey, I didn’t know that these guys could go there with this. That’s crazy!”

M: So this album is a concept album about a series of arsons that impacted your hometown growing up, correct?

F: Well the arsons happened in ’08 and ’09, but the arsons happened in the town I grew up in, yeah. Even now, I only live two towns over.

M: So how did that inspire you to write an entire album?

F: This fire started in 2008 and I first heard about it in December. They arrested somebody in December but January came and there were fourteen fires that month alone. They had arrested somebody but it was clear that they either had the wrong guy or there were multiple people doing it. February came, they arrested two people and those people confessed. They told us that it was over but two nights later there was another fire. At that point it was like, “When is this going to stop and why haven’t we stopped it already?” It was very scary and it made me angry and frustrated. That was when I wrote the first song. As it went on for a couple of more months, I had written a few more songs.  The first songs I wrote was called “Steel Town” and it didn’t actually make the record. I just kept going with it naturally but wasn’t really thinking about an album. It wound up after a while that I had four or five songs and I was thinking, “What is this? Is this an EP?” That was about the time I had started talking to Andy. When I met Andy, he’d actually had a fire in his house. His house burned to the ground and he lost all of his guitars and everything he owned so he said, “Hey man, I can totally relate to some of this.” He got involved and we just kept going with the concept of it. It became almost a fictional story about a couple growing up in a town that’s under siege and the fires are more in the background. It’s not all of the same facts, necessarily, but more of the feeling.  People couldn’t sleep at night because nobody knew if the fire was going to hit them.  The fires always came at 4 o’clock in the morning and they never knew where it was going to be, so the arsonists got away with it for months until the total was up to almost fifty fires.

M: I can see how that would be frustrating and terrifying and you’d want to get that out.  Had you always wanted to do a concept album, though?

F: Not at all, actually. I’d always thought that I wasn’t the type of person to do a concept album because I’m not really the type of person that focuses on one subject for months. It just became something that I was very inspired about and it gave the album a darker tone than some of the music I’d written in the past. It wasn’t just about my girlfriend or, you know, anything superficial. It was something that was right in front of me. We were on CNN and Time Magazine. I never thought anybody would have ever heard of my town and now it was on TV but not for anything that I’d want it to be.  As a writer, that was the way that I dealt with it.

M: At a certain point, do you feel that making a concept album forced everybody to be more creative?

F: We were able to take every aspect of that to fit on the album.  A song like “Conspiracy” didn’t necessarily talk about Coatseville, PA at all, [but it fits]. Jason Elgin wanted to make this album relatable to the average person. I might’ve had a lyric about the arsonist or something and it was very specific and he would encourage me to shy away from that because who can relate to that? No one. Only arsonists. Instead I tried to talk about the feelings that came about and get into the heads of some of the victims, at times. I was able to draw from experiences. My brother, he’s still living in the house that I grew up in. There was a fire right down the road and he actually saw one of the arsonists’ cars parked on the street. He reported it but it was long before they caught the person. Talk about close to home? This was literally close to my home.

M: You guys have this history of being in well-known bands, so is it weird going from these bands and starting new again?

F: I feel like that’s how it had to be. The hardest tour that we’ve ever done as this band was our first one. That’s because of what we’d been used to. I feel like the two years that we spent after leaving our bands were soul-searching times. For Josh in particular, it was probably the hardest time of his life. This is a real redemption story for him. People had really written him off but then we came back. Now we’re in a van, doing it how we did in our earliest touring days of being in small bands. It is a challenge every day. When we’re out working our own merch table on Warped Tour every day in 95 degree weather, it’s tough. The fact that we’d spent two years in between being unsure of what we were doing, at least knowing we are sure of why we are doing this. It’s so good to be playing again. When I’m in that heat, I think “I didn’t even know if I’d be able to do another Warped Tour,” so I’m just psyched to be able to be here again.

M: Do you feel any pressure at all, though?

F: We’re the type of guys that do pressure ourselves. We want to play in this band for ten years, at least. We love it so much. In one respect, that means we have to get along for ten years. On another, it means we need to be at some level of success that allows us to keep gas in the tank, you know? That’s where we pressure ourselves. As far as the writing, we want to write a song that goes beyond anything we’ve done in the past. We don’t really look at our past as a big, giant albatross. We look at it as being really great but there is a future, too.

M: You guys have your album out and you’ve been playing new songs but how has fan response been to the new material?

F: We played Philly last Friday and it was the first time we’d played since the music has been out there. It was the first time we’d seen people in the crowd knowing all of the songs. We felt like, “Wow, this is really happening now.” There were people stage-diving and crowd surfing, so it was a real show like we used to do. It’s been awesome. I really believe in these songs, we all do. I’m glad there are people out there that can be moved by it.

M: Which came first, the song “Terrible Things” or the band name?

F: The song came first. It was originally a song that I would play acoustic and solo. When we decided to name the band that, I re-wrote all of the verses to be our anthem, of sorts.  It’s about a lot of what we’ve been through.

M: What do you want for the rest of the future for Terrible Things?

F: We go out with Mae on October 1 and we’re planning to be on the road for the next year. We just want to ride this record all the way to 2012 when the world ends (laughs). We’re just taking it as we go, but so far we’re absolutely psyched. We encourage people to come out to the shows because we don’t sit backstage and drink beer; we’re out in the crowd meeting people. That’s the best experience you can get from us, beyond the record. Come see us live. We’re not a band that sounds way different when you see us live. We try to put on a great show.

Bookmark the permalink.