Interview: Ross Farrar of Ceremony

September 20, 2010

Until I was about 20, I didn't listen to a lot of music outside of punk and hardcore. College and girls evolved that eventually, but that's where my roots sit. In the last few years specifically, crossing over into my late 20s, the amount of new hardcore I listened to filtered down to near zero, until about a year ago when a friend told me to listen to Ceremony's Still Nothing Moves You. Straight up, I thought it was an incredible record, bringing the hardcore of bands like Negative Approach or Infest into the 21st century. And then they made Rohnert Park. Honestly, I was totally shocked by that record. I loved it. But it was so remarkably different. What had happened to them in that time that they got meandering, despondent? Had that anger been replaced with a general malaise? Songs like "Sick" or "The Doldrums" illustrated a lack of interest in the outside world as much as hatred towards it. Not to mention there were guitar solos. And the album's cover was the perfect metaphor for some bit of suburban nothingness, a kid wearing a Minor Threat sweatshirt, skating in front of a generic white house with an American flag. It was taken in Rohnert Park, California, where they all grew up. After the jump, Ceremony's Ross Farrar talks about about the record and his future.

Did you want to change Ceremony with Rohnert Park?
A lot of people in the band, well, actually everybody in the band, has been going in separate directions right now. JD is studying math at Berkeley, that’s pretty big. Anthony, I’ve kind of watched him grow up for as long as I can remember cause he lived down the street from me and I was friends with his brother. And he’s making big changes right now, things are kind of going crazy in his life, he’s trying to figure out what he’s doing, yadda yadda. Jake also is doing the same thing, veering towards other things in his life right now, same as me. I wanna do school, and I wanna study English and I wanna do all this stuff outside the band. So I think it was kind of natural for us to do something that sounded a little bit more grown up, I guess you could say. Or sounded not as violent or as abrasive as we did in the past. That kinda comes out with “Doldrums” and other songs that are obviously slower and more mellow than Still Nothing Moves You. And I think it’s just that we’re getting older and we can’t play as fast as we did before. No, that’s not true, but I don’t know, I think we’re just growing up and we’re not as angry as we used to be.

Did you replace that anger with boredom? Anger is a key and easy word for hardcore—and I think pretty appropriate for a lot of it—but I don’t view Rohnert Park as an angry record, I view it as more fed up.
I think a lot of that just came out from the writing and all of us coming from Rohnert Park the suburb. It’s kind of a boring place to be in. You’re like, Oh what am I gonna do? Am I gonna go spray paint or go skateboarding? You get involved in stupid shit. But now that everyone’s older and everyone’s moved away… I think it was more of a looking back record. Like, Oh, we never really did anything that involves Rohnert Park. We never wrote about our past or our childhood or made songs that had anything to do with where we came from. So that’s what we did on Rohnert Park, kind of like a throwback record to like, hardcore. A lot of hardcore bands came from the suburbs.

But with a song like “Sick,” it seems like you are sick of hardcore.
Yeah, I think if you do anything for a long period of time, there’s gonna be moments when you get tired of it, you kind of get sick of it in a way. And when I was doing that song, I was actually painting a house, I was painting Santana’s house with my dad. My dad’s a house painter. And, Santana just moved out of his house, and this other couple bought it so we’re painting Santana’s house, and I was like fuck man! This sucks, I don’t want to be painting houses right now, this is boring. So I just came up with “Sick.” It was a humorous song at first, I was just writing down stuff I was sick of, and that can be a very funny thing. There was a time when I was writing a song I was gonna say I was sick of UFOs. Whatever it was, eventually it was gonna be something that wasn’t so humorous, like there was humorous stuff in it and there was also stuff that I was really sick of so it kinda came out that way.

You say you’re sick of Black Flag and sick of Cromags, and that’s the whole spectrum of hardcore. It makes it seem like you can’t ever be satisfied.
Well that just goes back I think to the universal human question—no one can really be satisfied ever. I had this conversation with my girlfriend last night. She’s going through a bunch of shit right now, and she’s growing up pretty quick, pretty drastically. She’s doing court reporting school, and she’s about to be in the court system typing for all the lawyers and doing all this big girl stuff. She’s telling me that she’s really having a hard time right now and everything kinda sucks and she’s not happy and a lot of the non-happiness comes from not being satisfied. And that’s why everyone’s buying new houses constantly or new cars or a new wardrobe or television or whatever it is. And that’s just kind of like a normal thing I think with many humans, many Americans. The whole thing of being unsatisfied is just ever-consuming.

In writing and performing this record, and saying you were not satisfied, did you in some ways end up fulfilling that need?
For the first week of the first tour. But now, we wanna make a new record, we wanna make new songs. We wanna keep doing new stuff all the time. And I think that probably is a little piece of being unsatisfied. But you can look at it as being unsatisfied or creative.

Are you trying to reach outside of a hardcore audience?
Yeah, I think that its important to not be classified or marginalized into one certain thing. And Ceremony, especially with this new record, has been doing that, doing stuff outside of hardcore. We just played Fuck Yeah Fest in LA, you know, a whole bunch of bands we’ve never played with before, never, you know they’ve never heard of us. We were totally like the black sheep on the show. It was really interesting to see who watched us and what was the reaction of people. And I think playing shows like that is cool because you feel like a little bird getting out there into the world.

What was the reaction?
It was really good, actually. There were a lot of people watching the set and when we started playing, people were streaming in from the side. It was really cool. I was excited.

Is it totally different to play something like that than it is to play a venue like ABC No Rio?
Yeah, definitely, a totally different thing. But you know, they’re each fun. I don’t get scared or weird about it or whatever. I’m just putting on a show like I always do.

Are you ever scared at a show?
Nah, no. That’s not scary, it’s just what it is. You’re playing shows, entertaining people.

Photo Alan Snodgrass

Are you sick of that, too?
Yeah. No, I mean I love playing shows. Playing live shows is really fun because I don’t get much exercise, so I get up there and I get to do this really hardcore workout and when I’m done I probably lost a couple pounds, I sweated everything out that was bad in my body, so, I think its pretty good. It’s a good time.

You’re now spending more time away from Ceremony, going back to school and studying English, right?
I just started going back cause I studied photography for a long time and I thought that I maybe wanted to do that for a job but I didn’t know exactly how. So I came to a point where I just wanted to do it as a hobby. And in the middle of living in San Francisco, in Oakland, we started touring heavily, And then we got a break finally, and I didn’t have any money, so I moved back to Rohnert Park with my sister. And now I live here, and, I’ve always really enjoyed writing, so I’m gonna try and do something with that now.

Has writing lyrics sparked that interest?
I started writing lyrics with they were kind of whimsical things, like little half-poems or something. And during the time of Scared People, that’s when I realized that maybe I had a little bit of a writer in me. Like I could write stuff that would affect people and that could maybe, I don’t know, people could get some kind of emotion out of. And I started getting people coming up to me telling that the writing has helped them in their lives and they’ve got through hard times because of it. And then during Scared People I started to get into short stories or writing prose. And then during Still Nothing Moves You that was like full-blown, I wanted to write. So I was writing all this kind of like cool, big words, intellectual kind of shit. I thought like, Oh this is cool, people will like this, so it was totally weird. I guess you could write songs that can be abstract and kind of mysterious, but when you’re writing literature or prose you wanna write stuff that people can understand. All the lyrics on Rohnert Park were kind of straightforward and stuff. But then I started talking with one of my teachers you know like, You can write songs that are totally weird! I don’t know what I’m gonna do right now, writing. I’m just fucking going crazy, walking around my house at three in the morning, what the hell am I doing here. I’m having weird dreams and stuff, I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do, I’m lost.

When did that start?
I don’t know. I’ve kind of always been having problems with sleeping, but I think more so lately. I’m 25, turning 26 in a week, and I still don’t really have much to show for it, I guess. I need to get a job, man. I need to get in the fucking real world!

But you’re about to go on tour in Europe—
Yeah, that is true. I don’t want to sound like a fucking asshole. I get to go to Europe and stuff, which is fucking incredible so I can’t complain about that.

It’s funny you’d say you have nothing to show. You have a band with a heavy following and a sound that has steadily progressed.
Well I do have stuff to show for it of course, but when we’re talking about civilian, we’re talking about I guess a working world and a world that functions and a future.... People really start to bug out if they don’t have a salary or a concrete job. Because it can be scary, if you have a girlfriend you’re serious with and you’re trying to take steps in a relationship. Maybe someday she’s gonna wanna get married and have kids, and what are you gonna do if you don’t have any money? I mean you can do that. There are these small fears that I think a lot of Americans go through and I think I might be coming to that point, sooner not later. If I’m 30 and I don’t have stability that could scare me. Right now I think I’m fine, but in the future I think it could get worse.

I have a twin sister and she owns a house and has a masters degree and a really good life but I am sure she would love go to Japan like you’ve been able to do.
Yeah, it’s… I don’t know. It just goes back to what we were talking about, just being unsatisfied in general. Maybe it’ll never be enough. I guess it just all depends if you’re happy or not. I’m happy right now, and that's good enough for me.

Tell me about the cover of Rohnert Park. Was the photo staged?
No. It was totally candid. It’s in front of Anthony’s old house where he used to live where his sisters and his dad live right now. And that’s in M Section of Rohnert Park where we all grew up in, this really hard suburb. Not hard as in “hard times,” but as in, if you think about a suburb in the world you think about conveyer belt type houses, this is where it is, you know. We were just standing out in front of the house, getting ready to leave for a show or something, we were just like skating around, I had my camera. And JD the bass player was just skating by one of the houses. And I’m not gonna like, toot my own horn, but I know composition, ok, so I stood in front of the house, squared it up, and took a picture as he was skating by and that’s basically what happened. Theres the little American flag over the top of his head and everything. It’s great.

What happens next for Ceremony?
I wanna do a record that’s like the Pixies or something. I wanna do like Surfer Rosa type shit. I think that would be awesome. I love that record and it's really weird, you know—kinda whimsical but there’s also like the cool part, like let’s say “Something Against You,” that’s kinda like a punk song. Rohnert Park was kinda like that. We just did whatever we wanted and we weren’t just one genre. But I just wanna do some weirder stuff. I wanna experiment a little, I wanna get kind of weird.

Are you weird?
I don’t think I’m very weird, but I wanna do a weird record.

What do you think people will think about it?
Hate it. They’ll hate it. But I mean we do wanna do punk stuff too, so I don’t think they’ll hate it that much. They’ll be like, What the hell is going on?

It seems like maybe you want them to hate it.
I mean, they can hate it all they want. I really don’t think about it ever. I think a lot of that does come from people talking, on the message boards, cause they’re not gonna come up to me and talk, like I said. They’re not gonna say it to me and they’re not gonna call me on the phone and say, Hey you suck, and give me emails or whatever, so. It's basically all on the Internet. I mean, fuck the internet! Who cares?

Interview: Ross Farrar of Ceremony