The Appleseed Cast: “The process is its own achievement.”

After nearly two decades of music that transcends genres, we talk to founding member Chris Crisci ahead of their upcoming UK tour

The Appleseed Cast: “The process is its own achievement.”

By Glen Bushell

May 27, 2016 15:23

For the best part of 20 years, The Appleseed Cast have been a very important band. Forming in Lawrence, Kansas, way back in 1997, they came at the height of alternative rock bands breaking through to the mainstream. On their stunning second album, ‘Mare Vitalis’, released in 2000, the band swerved the emo movement and began a journey into much more expansive territory; a perfect combination of driving guitars, soaring post-rock and delicate beauty. After countless tours across the US and Europe and seven uniquely different albums, The Appleseed Cast have formed an almost cult-like following. You can still find people who haven’t heard of them, but those who are aware fiercely adore them.

“I’ve never been good at business side of indie rock analytics. If I had, who know how huge we could have become,” laughs founding member Chris Crisci when asked what has given the band such a dedicated underground following. “But the serious answer is I have no idea. I tend to see music, and art in general, in a very simple framework. I write songs I like and I’m grateful other people like those songs too. It’s pretty unbelievable that we have been able to make music, tour, meet new people and talk with familiar faces at the merch table or venue for nearly 20 years. I’m not sure another model can explain where we are today.”

We talk to Crisci ahead of their return to the UK this June. They are no strangers to touring here, and for most of their career have made a point of visiting our shores when given the chance. “The UK has always been one of our favourite places to play, and there’s always such great energy at the shows,” explains Crisci, reflecting on some of his fondest memories from previous tours. “At our first Manchester show in 1998 – it was with Jimmy Eat World and Spy Vs Spy I believe – Spy Vs Spy sound checked with ‘Bring It On Home’ and everyone in the room was blown away. We’ve also had great shows with Crash Of Rhinos and Moose Blood. There are specific shows in Leeds, Manchester and London that I remember well for their energy, and the kind of camaraderie we had with the audience. One that comes to mind was in Leeds. It was at Josephs Well, and I had broke three or four strings. As I was changing strings there was a good banter between us and the audience, and no one cared that the show stopped 3 times because it was more about the moment than just watching us play.”

With a wealth of material in their extensive back-catalogue, it gives The Appleseed Cast quite a lot of freedom when choosing their set lists. Crisci explains that while they want to make sure they play what people want to hear, the main thing is they play what they enjoy. “It definitely gives us the opportunity to change things up, but I’m not sure that it makes choosing songs any more difficult,” he begins. “I think the hardest part of coming up with a set is knowing that people coming to see us might want to hear a certain song and we may not have time to get to every song. Ultimately you just have to go with your gut and pick songs that you know you’ll have fun playing.”

It would appear that The Appleseed Cast have thought long and hard about the set list for their upcoming tour, and Crisci lets slip that there may be a few surprises in store this June. “This tour we are digging into some of our songs that I have always liked, but for one reason or another, we haven’t played live all that often, if at all,” he reveals. “We’re practicing the songs now and overall it’s a pretty intense set, but very fun to play. Stuff from ‘Mare Vitalis’, ‘Low Level Owl’, ‘Two Conversations’, ‘Peregrine’, and ‘Illumination Ritual’, so all over the place in that respect, but we’re definitely playing a lot of the more popular songs along with some deep cuts.”

The Appleseed Cast have also ventured into playing entire albums in the past. They performed ‘Mare Vitalis’ in full for the album’s 15th anniversary, and also played both of their sprawling ‘Low Level Owl’ albums in their entirety a few years back. With ‘Peregrine’ recently turning ten and having just been given a reissue by the excellent Graveface Records, we have to ask Crisci if it is something they will venture into for their other releases. “First of all, it is crazy that it’s been 10 years since Peregrine came out,” he says, “but we totally missed the 10 year reunion tour for ‘Two Conversations’ so we don’t have any plans to do it again. The previous anniversary tours were fun but we’re not trying to make that something we do from now on. I like songs from all of our albums and it’s much more rewarding to be able to play songs off of all of them.”

One of the main areas that The Appleseed Cast excels is the way in which their songs translate live. Each record has a very live feel to it and when they perform the songs truly come to life. “I think it’s just a production preference,” say Crisci of the live sound you hear from their recordings. “I’ve always liked live sounding albums and specifically with drums we like using a lot of the room mics which always lends the overall live feel. Even when we delve into more electronic sounds we often have kept the roomy drum sound in there which is a combination I’ve always liked a lot.”

The subject of recording brings us to the matter of new music from The Appleseed Cast. The band have just released a lavish repressing of their last album, ‘Illumination Ritual’, on several glorious vinyl colours, however rumours of something new on the horizon are circulating. Crisci plays his cards close to his chest on that one but drops a subtle hint by saying, “If you are talking about the stuff we’re working on right now, all I can say is that I’m really excited about it and it should be out this fall.”

What we can be sure of, is that wherever The Appleseed Cast head next, they will once again throw a curveball. “To me ‘Illumination Ritual’, musically, was about stripping down the production and focusing on raw energy,” explains Crisci when discussing whether or not their new material will follow a similar path to their last release. “We recorded and mixed it all at home and did the takes at break neck speed. I don’t know if we did more than 5 takes for any of the songs. We recorded it very fast. With the next record, we are taking much more care with the production.”

“Where ‘Illumination Ritual’ was stripped down, the new one will be lush with a lot of instrumentation, experimentation, found sounds, loops, etc. I’ve had a Korg MicroSampler for about 6 years now, and have really only used it for playing organ parts live. When you get into it, even though as a sampler it has some major limitations with memory, it does have a great layout and an awesome sampling/resampling feature that is great for creating loops and sounds on the fly, and being able to play them in a sequence live with a drummer. I also want to make the lyrics more central in my writing process. Not that I’m wanting more vocals in the songs, I’m just trying to approach my lyric writing differently on this one. More of a starting point than a finish.”

Another thing that has always had a hand in the evolution of The Appleseed Cast is the numerous line up changes that the band has seen. With Crisci being the only original member, he gives us some background into this. He explains how it’s not a case of bad blood, and is merely down to personal life choices. “More than anything it’s a matter of playing music with people that are excited about playing music,” he states. “People that have moved on have generally gone on to do much greater things than play in a rock band. Really the only reward for playing music is playing music. If that goes, why would you continue? There are easier ways to make money, I’m pretty sure. So some people move on and others who are into it join in. So in that sense everyone has brought their own flair to the band. Aaron Pillar had his own style that was great and Taylor Hollenbeck plays in a totally different way, but I love his style too. The line up for the next record will be the same as ‘Illumination Ritual’ with the exception of the bass player.”

As we begin to wrap up our time with Crisci, we take a quick glimpse in the future of The Appleseed Cast. After nearly two decades, he shares with us what he still hopes to achieve with the band, and that they have no plans of slowing down just yet. “There’s a lot of places I’d still like to see,” he confesses. “I’ve still not been over to Australia or New Zealand, and playing China would be an amazing experience. We have had offers, but couldn’t work it out at the time. We plan on doing a full Europe tour next year, and that will include the UK. Touring the US in the Fall, Winter and Spring. That and writing, which is the reason I love music. The process is it’s own achievement. Where the band is headed is to be determined, but for the foreseeable future, I don’t think I’m going to stop writing or touring.”

The represses of both ‘Peregrine’ and ‘Illumination Ritual’ are available now from Graveface Records. Be sure to catch the band on their UK in June, which you can see the dates for below.

08 LEICESTER Firebug
09 MILTON KEYNES The Craufurd Arms
10 GLASGOW The Classic Grand
11 MANCHESTER The Factory
12 BASINGSTOKE Sanctuary
13 CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
14 PLYMOUTH The Junction
15 SOUTHAMPTON The Social Club
16 CANTERBURY The Ballroom
17 LONDON The Garage
18 BRIGHTON Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
19 BIRMINGHAM The Rainbow

(Support on all dates comes from Listener, Kurt Travis, and Atlas:Empire.)