By Reyan Ali Finding a young, lesser-known band in the pages of Rolling Stone is not a noteworthy event. However, seeing a review of Ceremony's new record, Zoo, in the magazine recently still constitutes one of those I-can-believe-it's-happening-but-I-still-can't-believe-it moments because Ceremony are not the kind of up-and-coming group Rolling Stone usually elects to cover.
Once known as Violent World, the Rohnert Park, California-based band have spent seven years playing (and playing around with) rough-edged hardcore punk that seems custom-made for excellently unhinged circle pits and stage dives. Ceremony have been on Deathwish Inc. and Bridge Nine -- a pair of hardcore labels Rolling Stone usually wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole -- and they've always maintained a fiercely DIY, enigmatic aura that makes them a bit unapproachable. (They don't have Twitter, Facebook or MySpace pages, which is a pretty ballsy move in 2012.) Before this year, Ceremony never appeared in Rolling Stone, and, unsurprisingly, guitarist Anthony Anzaldo never maintained any overt or serious desire for that to happen.
"We didn't start the band thinking that we were ever going to be in Rolling Stone or wanted to be in Rolling Stone or anything like that," Anzaldo says. "We weren't just like, 'Oh, cool, we're going to be in Rolling Stone' [when the review ran] and then it never came up again."
"It was definitely rather eventful and, you know, the more people who write about you and talk about you, the more people are going to check you out and buy your records and hopefully become fans of the band," he says. "That's what we're interested in. We want to be able to sustain the band as much as possible. I mean, there are things that we won't do, and publications that we don't want to write about us, but [the Rolling Stone piece is] flattering," he says. "I think milestone is far too heavy of a word, but it's flattering."
There are two key reasons that not only Rolling Stone but also Spin and Pitchfork -- a pair of other major music publications usually unconcerned with the world of hardcore -- are now in the Ceremony business. The first is that Ceremony signed to the ever-respectable Matador Records in June 2011. Matador's bread and butter has always been indie rock (over the years, it's issued records by Yo La Tengo, Pavement, Belle and Sebastian, and Sleater-Kinney), but it's also shown an increasing willingness to move outside its comfort zone and take gambles. In June 2008, the New York-based Matador signed hardcore/experimental outfit Fucked Up, which opened the possibility for Ceremony to move to the label, too.
A friend of a friend of Ceremony was working A&R at Matador, which allowed the band to initially attract the label's attention. From there, the label contacted the group and trekked to Los Angeles to see Ceremony play a show at the Roxy Theatre. The two entities had a long conversation that night that, in Anzaldo's words, was "not necessarily about us signing to them but just about music in general and the state of the industry and what we wanna do," which led to the band's receiving a formal offer a few weeks later. "I wasn't surprised by the offer just because of all the talk. I would have been surprised if they didn't give us an offer 'cause we had been talking with them so much," he says, "but '2009 Anthony Anzaldo' is definitely surprised." He adds that Ceremony calling Matador home "is definitely a huge reason why we're in those publications, but I do think that getting favorable reviews in those publications has to do with the work that we did."
This brings us to the second reason why Ceremony are popping up in unexpected places. Like Fucked Up, who have gradually colored outside the lines with unusual and more unexpected colors in the past few years, Ceremony have made significant shifts in their sound since their uncultivated days, and Zoo is no exception. Ceremony's 2010 record Rohnert Park -- a not-so-loving tribute to their North Bay suburb -- exhibited a band intent on warping your head through both conventional hardcore blasts and unique pseudo-psychedelic jaunts and spoken-word experiments.
Their music is rooted in agitation, but Ceremony are more than game to take artistic risks and settle into their non-tough-guy side when the occasion calls for it. Zoo finds them straying from direct hardcore influences and taking new aesthetic cues from garage rock, post-punk, and goth rock. (Anzaldo, in particular, is a fan of the last genre, mentioning Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, The Cure, The Cult, and Christian Death as influences. He also hopes for the band to collaborate with Zola Jesus.) Ceremony are now writing slower songs, playing them with greater deliberacy, and sounding more like a particularly scratchy indie rock band than they ever have before. Farrar's vocals are less incensed, more intelligible, more contemplative. All of these are good things.
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Even with these changes, Anzaldo takes great pride in the idea of still thinking of Ceremony as a punk band, which they certainly are. The tenacity and creativity of their revamped sound on Zoo is punk in the classic, anything-goes-as-long-as-it's-insightful sense of the 1970s New York scene. "I think that we all love punk because though it can be so simple, there's still a lot of depth and personality in the music. Also, punk, like us, isn't something that you can just say 'This is punk' [about]," he says. "The Sex Pistols are punk. I've heard people say At the Drive-In is punk. Those bands sound nothing alike, but everyone has their own idea of what punk is, and that's why to some degree it's really relatable to us. I don't think that we're just one thing either stylistically, but I would never not call us a punk band."
Ceremony is scheduled to perform tonight at the Rhythm Room.