Glassjaw’s Justin Beck usually favors Gibson Les Paul Classics onstage, but he rocked a cherry red 1961 Les Paul Tribute during this performance at Chicago’s Riot Fest in 2016. Speaking briefly about the guitar during the festival performance, Beck mentioned that he bought the guitar in 2015 and the only thing he’s done to make it his own is swap out the standard “sideways” Vibrato with a Vibrola because “it never truly went back to the zero position.” He’s really enjoyed jamming on it because of the guitar’s thinner neck and he’s loved having a functioning whammy bar since he hasn’t owned a guitar with one since 1993. And as he put it, “Dive bombs all day!” Photo by Chris Kies
Hempstead, Long Island’s Glassjaw have been flying the flag for independent post-hardcore since the release of their Ross Robinson-produced debut album, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, in 2000. The sound of the band’s fearless experimentation and metallic edge has earned them a rabid worldwide fan base. Yet Glassjaw have been plagued by struggles and unplanned hiatuses that have kept these loyal fans unsure, at times, of the band’s very existence. Thankfully, with the recent release of Material Control, their first full-length album in 15 years, Glassjaw’s main aural architects, guitarist and bassist Justin Beck and singer Daryl Palumbo, have put the group back in the spotlight.
Post-hardcore is a genre that has enjoyed an extremely loyal following since its advent in the early 1980s, with seminal bands like Minor Threat and Big Black. But it received a sonic shot in the arm in the early 2000s, with the debut albums from At the Drive-In and Glassjaw, among others. A whole new mass of diehards became hungry for the genre’s punk-tinged experimentation. Only two years after their debut, Glassjaw followed with the equally menacing Worship and Tribute. While that album cemented the band’s legacy in the post-hardcore world, it would prove to be the last full-length Glassjaw would record until now.
Proponents could rely on Glassjaw to occasionally rise from the ashes with new music that challenged them while pushing the band’s art forward and re-energizing the genre. Via a revolving-door lineup of bandmates, Beck and Palumbo managed sporadic releases—three EPs—and undertook short tours and one-offs under the Glassjaw banner.
But more recently, Beck and Palumbo rediscovered the band’s essense, and that’s exactly the pulse behind Material Control. “When we were young,” says Beck, “it was not about being rock stars or to travel the world, but just to play music that we like. That’s always been the driving factor.”
Material Control is a potent return, with all of the primal intensity and far-reaching musical ideas that put Glassjaw on the map, but in more streamlined form. It’s an album that was crafted from a place of simple and visceral reaction to the everyday stresses and challenges we all face. “I think there’s overcompensation when you’re young,” says Beck. “But sometimes, it’s simpler things that are much more impactful.”
While “simpler” may be the way Beck describes the album, the second the opening track, “New White Extremity,” begins shaking your speakers, it is the last word you’d use to describe it. Material Control is a hurricane of punishing bass-driven riffs, atonal guitar flourishes, ambient interludes, and grooves that shift on a dime. While “Closer” proudly boasts the pummeling energy of hardcore, the instrumental title track is propelled by an absolutely filthy drum groove and a clean, finger-tapped guitar melody, lasting only long enough to refresh the listener for the next gut-rattling opus.
“People have really neglected the bass, especially in metal. They think it’s just something to fill the subs in. But it’s melodic, it’s progressive, and it has so much power.”
Material Control continues to garner raves from critics and fans. And according to Beck, who gave Premier Guitar the lowdown on his dual role as the band’s guitarist and bassist, Glassjaw are now free to embrace a new age of musical experimentation and output. So, for the time being, it seems like all the pieces of Glassjaw’s daring, sonically adventurous puzzle are fitting into place—with the energy and invention that made the band earth-shaking still intact.
It’s been 15 years since Glassjaw’s previous album, and yet Material Control sounds ferocious. How were you able to come back with such energy after all that time?
Coming back to do a full length, we went back to the question: “Why’d we start the band?” I wanted to be on Revelation Records, which was an old punk-rock label that’s still around. That was the epitome of making it in our world when we were young—just to be on this cool fucking label and put out a 7″. So we got together a couple of weekends and just hammered Material Control out. It came together organically, with no big pictures. It was like, “Let’s just jam as if we were 13 again.”
As far as the aggressive state of the music, that’s relative. I think for us, there’s enough anxiety and real-life situations that drive you fucking crazy. Just regular life and being a civilian, and having the same gripes as everybody else. You go out, and you vent, and put it to tape.
How would you describe the evolution of your sound from the early days to Material Control?
The band’s desires have always been exactly what Material Control is. I hate it when people say, “We’ve evolved and we’ve matured.” But I would say that we’re not as shitty and as immature as we were in the past.
Beck and Palumbo chose to self-produce the new album. “A producer is filtering it,” says Beck. “And along with that filtering comes process, time, cost, pressures, and expectations.”
And I feel like we’re able to hone in on what that sound was in our heads that we’ve wanted to do since ’93. We were just too young to really understand it, you know? The trajectory was always the same. It just took 25 years for us to finally find our stride.
One thing that struck me about Material Control is how, through the chaos, there is always something for your ear to catch onto. Is that part of what you were reaching for?
You’re always trying to throw in some flair—something that emotionally lifts you and pulls you down, then pulls you left and right. If there is any emotional journey that our little ability allows us to do, we’re going to try to implement it so you feel like the song is taking you somewhere. Whether it’s a clever drum beat, or a catchy bass lick, or a sweet melody on a guitar … it’s a matter of sprinkling them in.
You played everything on the album except drums, so the pressure to create that push and pull was on you. Tell me about the recording process you used to capture that.
We did it ourselves. We were going to record the drums at my warehouse, but Billy [Rymer, of Dillinger Escape Plan and the principal drummer on Material Control] had a friend with a studio where he would record, further out east on Long Island, called VuDu Studios. We went to his studio and the drums were already set up. We tracked from something like 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and that was it. Drums were done. Then we took those tracks and Daryl did his portion at his studio, and I did the guitar and bass at my house. For the most part—all the production—we did it ourselves.