Ennui - Sound In The Signals Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview John Anthony and Mike of Ennui. We discussed why chemistry amongst band members is so important, what inspired them about music early on, their writing and recording process, musical influences, their upcoming split 7”, the Long Island music scene, and more. Check it out below. 

First, thanks for the interview.

John Anthony: Thank you! We appreciate being reached out to for this!

Can you tell me how you formed the band for those who may be unfamiliar? How did you initially become interested in music?

John Anthony: Ennui formed in 2020 that is a project sitting in our guitarist Mike’s head since he was a teenager. Mike, myself, Jason and Chris initially started and we added Dan on second guitar before our first show last year.

We were writing songs for a melodic hardcore band and started recording those, but ultimately, at least for the time being, Ennui took priority of the two bands during the pandemic. We wanted to break out of our comfort zone and give screamo a shot. We had a lot of time to think and gestate on a lot of things, I think that can be said for everybody.

Mike: My initial vision for this band was very blurry but continues to focus with time. It’s worth noting that it’s rare for me to be inspired, have some good ideas and then actually follow through with them. I’ve usually found myself in ‘convenient’ bands where I played more of a supporting role to someone else’s ambitions and established songwriting; Ennui is my own vision and I must answer to my own criticisms and meet my own standards.

But as I get older I’ve learned realizing your visions cannot and should not be done in a vacuum—which is why finding the right members was super important to me. I sat on songs and design ideas for a year or more before I finally assembled this dream team of eccentric artists whom I now trust with anything musical or otherwise. Having the right chemistry as friends in addition to artistic collaborators is more important to me than just musicianship and efficiency.

John Anthony: I became interested in music through my older sister, who got me into punk and grunge in the 90s when I was about 9 years old. She got into it through our uncle – who saw Suicidal Tendencies and Dead Kennedys in the 80s. I got a lot of her hand-me-downs, I was almost immediately the weird kid in primary school and I don’t regret a fucking thing.

She always used to tell me about shows she went to and I was always interested. We both grew up in an unstable household with unavailable parents – we were looked after mostly by our grandfather who stood in for us as a positive parental figure, but he’d died when I was just starting to become a teenager and it left us in chaos.

When the time came and I was old enough to start going to shows, it arrived at a really pivotal time in my life because I didn’t resonate with organized religion or sports or drugs. I wanted art, I wanted intensity and threshold, I wanted skateboarding, I wanted depth and belongingness because I wasn’t getting it at home – so I sought it out.

I fell in love with what an underground community could be at its most organic, and I attribute the longevity of my choice in remaining straight edge to that as well. It gave me an outlet where I was a confused, manic, and grieving young man with no grasp on his identity at all – life could have gone very differently, I’m glad it didn’t.

Mike: I was lucky to grow up in a very musical home where creativity was encouraged and celebrated. I started playing guitar when I was in 5th grade and very quickly turned my attention to composing and recording my own music. In 7th grade my parents bought me a Tascam 424 4-track which I used prolifically for the next few years before joining my first hardcore band in high school where performing live and collaborating with others became more of a focus.

When I was in 6th grade I loved The Who, but not the version of the band that most people know and enjoy: I liked The Who in the mid 60s, before Pete Townsend became obsessed with the concept of rock operas; when Robert Daughtry had yet to find his voice/place in the band and still fashioned himself as an R&B singer; when they were all doing amphetamines, experimenting with feedback as a musical element and smashing their instruments after every set; when they hated each other and were always on the verge of breaking up; when they really didnt know what the fuck they were doing and were caught inbetween the Mod scene and something entirely unprecedented.

This wasn’t a version of the band that sold out stadiums but it sure as hell was exciting and the tension was palpable and enshrined in the voracious way they played their instruments. What I’ve learned about myself is that every band or musician I’ve idolized in my formative years, like The Who, had strong elements of authenticity and subversion–it should be pretty clear to see how punk and hardcore aligns with this narrative and found its way into my life.      

I owe a lot to the Long Island DIY scene in the 2000s wherein I experienced the values of inclusion and community, as well as my first real introduction to lefty politics.

You recently released two songs and a cassette with the release. Can you tell me about writing and recording those songs?

John Anthony: When we first started we were a 4-piece and the first few practices were a rough start. In reality I think it was natural that we had to spend some time thinking about where we wanted to go, and we all had harsh critiques, maybe in part because we were doing something entirely new for us – we all came from more straightforward hardcore bands.

The first thing for us was that we wanted to ditch dropped tuning altogether. We didn’t want to artificially infuse drop-tuning into songs because we felt like it was a really common and saturated pathway to creating intensity. We also wanted to rely on an elaborate pedal setup as little as possible. Just plug in and fucking go. We wanted the performance to speak for itself, no matter how disjointed, rough, or out of place it might feel, we became comfortable with taking that risk.

Writing these songs has been something of a journey within a journey for me, because they’re all deeply personal and looking at the worst parts of myself to try and give validation and reason to myself as an adult, also acknowledging that I’m very much an unclean and messy individual exhausted from living through the lens of a cynical and irate person. A lot of the songs also became inadvertently political – in reality, you can’t have one without the other, I’ve found.

As far as the writing of the actual music, I’ll divert the rest of that question to the other guys.

Mike: It’s been a while since I’ve been in a band that is starting entirely from scratch—probably the first time, actually. It’s worth mentioning that I hadn’t played guitar in a band since about 2014 (I had been playing bass almost exclusively) and Chris hadn’t played drums at all since like 2016 or so. John Anthony was trying to find his voice for this project too. We were rusty. In the writing process there is definitely a learning curve; I often have a hard time describing what I want a song to sound like, rhythmically. We mostly don’t know what we’re doing and none of us are versed in music theory or anything like that. Moreover, this band is definitely out of our comfort zones, musically. We all share this burden but it really isn’t a burden at all because it allows us to follow our instincts instead of unconsciously adhering to established conventions. 

These two songs were recorded back in March or April. We were in a bit of a rush because we had to vacate our former rehearsal space in the coming weeks and my studio had to be temporarily dismantled. I have tons of regrets about the recordings and wish I had done a few more takes of the guitars and done the whole thing to a click track.

So far we have recorded all of our music ourselves using various 90s-era equipment and methods, yielding varying results. We tracked the drums on an old ‘blackface’ ADAT and then mixed them into GarageBand where we recorded the remainder of the instruments and vocals. I wanted to do the whole thing on a cassette 4-track but earlier takes weren’t coming out too great so we pursued a less pretentious method. The limitations of my mostly DAW-less setup are generally a result of my unwillingness to spend more than $100 on any given piece of gear but also partially deliberate to simplify the process and escape the minutiae of audio engineering. I am not an engineer. I’m not built for downloading plugins and fiddle around with parametric EQ; I like to turn knobs and hit buttons and stuff until it sounds “good enough.”. 

Unfortunately Lo-fi recordings can be a dealbreaker for many music fans but sometimes it does the songs more justice and I wish it was more normalized. I typically look to the Portraits of Past demo as a benchmark for the bare minimum of listenability for this type of music (at least by my standards) and try not to agonize over every flaw in the recordings.

Who were some of your biggest musical influences when you were writing those songs?

Mike: I was listening to a lot of Yaphet Kotto at the time. I don’t necessarily think these tracks bear any resemblance but you may hear it on some of our other songs.

It’s probably futile but I try not to take any super specific influences with this band. Our only mission statement is to create music that is emotional, raw and volatile. Along the way I try to mimic the aesthetic and DIY ethic of 90s screamo and emocore bands. 

Burial Gift” has great guitar work. How long did you work on that song?

John Anthony: Honestly, from my recollection, not as long as you’d think. That one came very naturally, both musically and lyrically because we were comfortable enough at that point to drive the whole thing home.

Mike: I wrote this one about a year before we had our first practice and it’s the only song out of the 5 or so that I wrote on my own that we ended up using. It’s kind of a clusterfuck of many disjointed, orphaned riffs and concepts that miraculously got strung together in a somewhat graceful way (after many shittier forms of the song preceded). The writing process is more collaborative these days and we try not to agonize over every little detail like I did with Burial Gift.

Is there any chance that we’ll see a vinyl release for the two songs at some point?

John Anthony: Probably not, at least not for a long time. We plan on funding and distributing our own releases (Mike runs Day Zero Collective) so we have complete and total control over our band and what happens with it. This is important to us because we don’t want to be steered in a direction that doesn’t feel genuine. We have other songs we want to drive out on vinyl. This was a special, isolated first release but nothing is absolute.

Mike: I originally intended these two songs to be on a split of some sort—I really didn’t want to go through the motions of releasing a formal “demo.” After we started playing shows we decided that some release of recorded music would be prudent as everyone was getting impatient. 

But at this juncture I don’t see the point of pressing these tracks to vinyl. Our songwriting experience so far has been episodic; we write in small bursts so I feel our releases should mirror that process. I would expect more frequent releases from us consisting of few tracks. It will all end up on some anthology/compilation one day.

You have plans for a split 7” this summer. What can you tell me about it so far?

John Anthony: It’s 3 songs from us, and one from another band in the genre. It’s going to be announced much sooner than later. Like, very soon.

Mike: We recorded these songs about a year and half ago and a lot of work and planning has gone into it. I just got the test presses yesterday and that’s as much info as I’m willing to disclose for now.

You’re from Long Island. That scene has a ton of really great bands currently coming out of it as well as a great past lineup. What do you think of the scene currently in Long Island? Who are some of your favorite newer artists or bands?

John Anthony: I think the past couple of years were difficult for a lot of people and continue to be. In my opinion, our scene here is at its strongest, which I can only speculate has to do with coming out of challenging times. People come and go. I’ve never been great with people leaving but we’re also seeing a lot of people come back. We’re experiencing a lot of multi-genre collaboration with a collective scene and it’s amazing.

The new kids are vicious, brave, intelligent, and most importantly – their capacity for compassion is massive when push comes to shove. They surprise me every day, I’m with it.

We have several older bands that’ve gotten back together (or require no introduction) that are amazing, but I want to shout out the newer breed of Long Island – current bands from out here that are absolutely worth checking out are: Private Mind, Godseyes, Stand Still, Wreath of Tongues, Koyo, Slow Marrow, Carcosa, Heavy Hex, The Fight, Somerset Thrower, Blame God, Pain of Truth...I’ll continue to say that there’s way too much going on from Long Island to list in a single article. 

We really want to see a screamo scene integrated with everything else going on around Long Island but in recent years we’ve had (only), to my knowledge, Soren and People’s Temple Project. We want more, come hang with us!

Mike: Music is and always will be a big part of the culture of Long Island, you can’t escape it. It would be corny to say there’s something in the water and there’s no point listing all of the greats of decades past for the umpteenth time. The truth that often gets overlooked is that there is never one band or genre or scene that exemplifies the LI sound; there have always been many influential groups and scenes that work in tandem, parallel and more often than not crossbred. If you look at basically any underground musical phenomenon—hip hop, hardcore, emo, ska—and you’ll find that there were always multiple influential bands from LI critical to the movement.

The talent is never scarce; I will always find a band that changes my life forever and who also happens to live 20 minutes from my house. This trajectory will never change as long as new generations of kids go to shows, get inspired and act. This is only possible if we maintain our rich DIY networks of promoters and booking agents, venues, graphic designers, printmakers, [generous] van owners, record labels and studios. Everyone has some sort of talent and something to contribute; when we all come together to help each other succeed we are creating something bigger than ourselves, something more than just our own bands and projects.

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

John Anthony: A lot of people are messy, complicated, and hurt folks who only know how to express that through the ways they learned to protect themselves and maintain their day to day. Everything is hard. I hope that we all come out through the gate better, wiser, and more resolved people and our mistakes become lessons and not landmarkers, there’s room to grow. These are the people we want to meet.

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