Destroying Monoculture with Institute’s ‘Subordination’
Austin's Institute aren't as easy to pin down as you may think. In the days since their 2013 demo, the four-piece has grown leaps and bounds, developing their own approach and releasing TWO LPs for Sacred Bones. The latest is Subordination (due on June 2), which finds the band toying with the post-punk format even more by incorporating elements of glam and nodding to everything from the Wipers to Joy Division along the way. Stream "Powerstation" from that LP below.
With the new LP on the way, we asked all four members of Institute about the new LP, being a band split across several locations and what's up with all of their other projects, like Glue, Wiccans and Back to Back. Their answers are below.
In the highly volatile world of punk rock, where bands form, create a demo and then disappear almost instantaneously, you guys have slugged it out for close to five years. What do you attribute that longevity to?
Adam Cahoon (bass): I think we accidentally created a framework that could adapt along with our interests. Strangely enough, we've managed to stay on the same page even though we're each doing our own thing in different cities. Maybe a lot of people pick an aesthetic early on and make it so rigid that there's no room to grow without completely abandoning the original concept. We're pretty lucky, I guess.
Arak Avakian (guitar): Cohabitation, communication, collectivism. There are many people outside of the band who deserve our thanks for keeping us on base, whether it be with opportunity, support or conversation.
Moses Brown (vocals): It's been a smooth ride.
Barry Elkanick (drums): Friendship and love.
Subordination is your second LP overall, as well as your second effort with Sacred Bones. How did the end result of Catharsis fuel the new one? Were there things about it that you didn’t like that you used as fodder for the new LP?
MB: I remember getting done with the first LP and waiting to hear it mastered and on vinyl, just hoping that it'd sound the way I had wanted it to. Ultimately, it didn't, really. I think we came at it with too many preconceived ideas of what we wanted it to sound like. Mixed with a weird-ass professional studio, [it] came out interesting, but real far from what the band actually sounds like. A lot of it was definitely fun when we did it, and it's interesting to listen to now, but yeah, that whole experience of the first LP gave us the clues of what to do with this second one. For me, at least, it was like, "Okay, let's just wing recording this thing, but make it loud as fuck." I think all the reference we gave Ben [Greenberg, engineer] was a Grand Funk Railroad song and a Warsaw song.
BE: I joined Institute a few months prior to recording Catharsis. I think the first LP captured many beautiful moments, but also occasionally shows how the dynamic of the group was in an unfamiliar place, as our creative relationships were yet to be fully realized. Subordination rides much more fluid than Catharsis, as recording with each other seemed to happen organically this time around.
AA: I had such a difficult time recording the first LP, and I always thought it sounded like something that was really difficult to make. For this record, I just wanted to come in and nail it like a badass on fire. Hard work does not equal hard rock.
How were these songs written? Were they specifically conjured for the LP, or were some of them preexisting?
AA: We involved ourselves in the most committed writing process to date. We were taking six-to-eight-hour Sundays semi-weekly for a good few months. It was very fun and freeing to me. Through this, we were able to have the bulk of this record written before Mose took to New York. We also toured Europe on these songs for nearly a month prior to recording them, which really put the roller to the dough.
AC: The majority was written as we always do: with half Moses songs, which are usually fully realized for every instrument, and then mine, which are really raw and skeletal and more collaborative, for better or worse. This one also had some tracks that we somehow conjured on the spot, and [they] ended up being some of our most dynamic and complex songs ever, I think. Usually, you try to do that and you end up with total throwaway tracks, but those ended up being some of my favorites.
MB: Yeah, we knew I was moving for like eight months before I did, so a lot of them were created before I did move for the purpose of having another record. A lot of Arak just doing whatever his gut told him, which was new and amazing.
How does Mose being a New Yorker affect the rest of the band's creative process?
MB: Well I dunno yet, 'cause we haven't created anything while I've been up here. [Laughs] Arak is moving up here soon, so things are about to get interesting. We'll get back to you on it.
AA: The band's creative process is cryogenic right now, and I think it will thaw with intrigue. Individually, the rest of us have been exploring ourselves within other music for the last year.
BE: The distance between all of us is healthy. It gives us time to reflect on ideas, and also it makes the moments we spend with each other much more special!
Mose has an interesting perspective on punk, as the band was created in the fertile Austin scene, and then he moved to the also fertile N.Y. scene. What are your thoughts on Austin vs N.Y., and some of the benefits / detriments of each?
MB: Both scenes have scenes within themselves, like the more established acts and the younger crowd doing whatever the hell they want as well. Straight up, there are so many more people here, so many more bodies at shows, which is amazing; but for me coming from Austin, it'd kill me to go to as many shows here as I did there! Totally speaks to the vastly different nature of the two cities. But yeah, detriment is being in cramped-ass bars, being broke constantly and being socially stressed out. Benefits are the insane passion and quality of what everyone does with punk here. Not to say that wasn't [the case] in Austin, but straight up, again, there are so many more people here. Art is way more linked in with N.Y. bands as well, like inseparable from the music. That's huge for me. So much more left-field stuff getting conjured up here. I shouldn't be complaining, though. I should just get over the lack of a patio and $2 beer.
AA: I'll pack you a whole case of $2 beers and bring them with me, Mose. On me.
The theorem that subculture creates great ideas and monoculture steals them is truer now more than ever. Do you feel like, in the era of the internet and Bandcamp, etc., it's still possible to keep things punk? Does the underground exist anymore in a true sense?
MB: I think that if people want to drag internet culture into their real lives, that's one thing, but it's officially a skewed way to look at the world, and especially punk. There is so much real underground shit still going, and there always will be. The internet is a pretty great tool for booking underground shows and keeping in touch with people, but it doesn't have to extend to your real-life experiences of live music or your peers. You see so many people completely crippled by the internet these days. Use it; don't be abused by it. Ultimately, it gets more and more kids into punk, and gets punk into weirder and weirder places in America, so that is definitely amazing.
AA: As long as people in our community understand the difference between exposure and fame, utility and exploitation, tooling and manipulation, reality and facade, the true underground will be supported by the internet.
BE: Man, the internet is freaky! But as Mose has mentioned, using it as a tool can be super beneficial. Having the accessibility of Bandcamp and YouTube, etc., to share projects you or your friends are working on and reaching those who are tuned in so quickly is great. Unfortunately, on the other hand, it has become the most convenient way of promoting and hearing about underground events, which leaves out the cultural importance of physical flyers. Shame.
Do you plan on touring in the near future on a more extensive level?
AC: Yeah, I'd like to tour more, but I'm definitely in the unfortunate position of being older and having to come to terms with basic responsibilities after being reckless for so long and throwing away any chance for a normal career, health, sanity or whatever long ago. It's possible it keeps us fresh creatively, though. A lot of bands have a decent album and stay on the road for most of the year, and then burn out their audience as well as their creativity. Glad it's not a career and we get to create on our own terms.
MB: We're doing two weeks in July, hitting [the] East Coast, Midwest and Grateful Dead country. We'll probably go back to Europe? And I'd love to do South America with this one. People got full-time jobs, though (with benefits), so we gotta work around that. Important shit right now.
AA: I hate to think that our our jobs, our money and the attached security are the main obstacles standing in our way.
What are some updates on the new Glue LP? Wiccans? Will Back to Back ever play again, properly (not jumping on a show at the last minute, like in January)?
AC: Wiccans just finished a new LP that's coming out this summer on Brooklyn's Dull Tools label. I'd say that record and the new Institute are my favorite records I've done. Both come the closest to the sounds I've imagined making in my head, which is always hard to translate. The engineers that recorded them immediately got what we were doing, and there's a lot of experimentation in both that wound up adding a lot to the overall sound. I'm also insanely critical of my own performances and hate hearing myself, but this is the closest I've ever got to feeling like I didn't completely suck the entire time and ruin everything.
MB: Glue LP is off to the plant! We're touring Europe on it in June. It'll be in the States at the end of the summer.
BE: Back to Back is full of surprises.