The Saddest Landscape formed at the turn of the century when basement screamo was still en vogue, surviving beyond its mall-ified permutations to develop a cult following of international fans who devoured their multiple vinyl releases and the deeply personal, raw songs etched into them. After a brief hiatus of sorts in the late 2000s, countless member changes, the loss of a close friend and one near-death experience themselves, they settled on a solid lineup and stepped outside their comfort zone with a new producer and more songs for Darkness Forgives, their most varied, compelling and arguably best album yet. Vocalist/guitarist Andy Maddox sat down with Substream at a bakery near his home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, to discuss the record’s genesis and themes, and how he managed to address tragedy and happiness in equal measures.
The band was involved in a serious van accident at the beginning of a tour in December 2013. You all escaped without serious injuries though, right?
ANDY MADDOX: Emotionally, I think we were a little shaken up. We had a tire fall off on the highway—the axle cracked in Pennsylvania. The last stop we went to [was record store] Double Decker in Allentown, shopped for some records, and then…I remember we were listening to Cave In, and the next thing I know I [had] nodded off or something, and I remember just waking up outside of the van. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had a minor concussion. I called home and was like, “Hey, I was in an accident.” [The response was,] “Oh, I know, you called five minutes ago. Do you not remember this?” And I had no recollection of it. I remember at some point the police were there and I was talking to them and just rubbing my head and had blood coming out of my fingers, and I was just like, “Oh, this is a thing now…” But as far as seriously injured, no. Everything turned out fine, but there’s just that unknown. In hindsight, the van was probably more packed than it should have been, which is a thing a lot of bands do, but I’m sure all that weight in there wasn’t ideal.
Do you think the accident influenced writing this album lyrically? Did you pull anything from it?
Directly, where I can pinpoint the song is about that? No. But it definitely has an effect on your outlook on life—you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I hate saying things like, “We came really close to death,” but you don’t know—it just puts it in perspective. What if the van was going just a little faster, or if [bassist] Andy Farrell [who was driving at the time] didn’t pay attention…? It definitely made you nervous to drive. We still had a tour that was underway, but no one wanted to get back on it. No one wanted to drive. That definitely shaped this a little.
I thought it was interesting that “Til Our Ears Bleed” kind of circles back to “In Love With The Sound” in a way—it’s a different topic, but you’re referencing predecessors and peers, respectively.
“Til Our Ears Bleed” is directly for Jason [Rosenthal from On The Might Of Princes, who passed away in August 2013]. I almost called it “For Jason” but I wanted the song, for people who didn’t know Jason or On The Might Of Princes, to be able to stand on its own. He was in the Saddest Landscape briefly, and we had done a couple recordings with him, post-[2010’s] You Will Not Survive, pre-[2012’s] After The Lights. In a way, it’s a love letter to the music scene, but it was more for him, or how his passing affected me and the band, whereas “In Love With The Sound” is more just commentary on the scene in general at that point. When I was first writing “In Love With The Sound,” it finally felt like music was exciting again for bands like us. Our peers were becoming successful in new ways. It wasn’t just like, “Oh, they’re good for a DIY band,” which is always—
—a backhanded compliment.
Yeah. Touché Amoré was redefining what a band like this could do. I didn’t think a band like that was ever gonna play Reading Festival, or do these big tours, or have records chart in the way they did. I was just so happy for all those bands that this was happening. At the same time, there was this weird backlash against it because they were becoming popular. I wanted to call bullshit on it. That’s why I had lines like, “You can keep your basements if it means we have to be better than our friends.” I want to be proud of this. If I have to have these outdated politics and have been a fan since 1985 or something, I don’t need to be a part of that.
You have a ton of little lyrical references to On The Might Of Princes dropped into “Til Our Ears Bleed” as well.
I wanted it to be clear to people who didn’t get it that it wasn’t like, “Hey, I’m just like sort of liberally drawing lyrics from them.” No, it’s directly there. A lot of the lines are direct conversations I had with Jason, too. The last time I saw him was at the [Revelation Records 25th Anniversary Festival] in New York City in October 2012, because at that point he had moved to Texas. Being friends with Jason is crazy. Like anyone else, he had things he was dealing with. The very last thing I said to him when I said goodbye was, “You look good!” He did. Part of you felt like, maybe things will be good. It wasn’t long after that I found out what happened. The first line is, “We first met in a Long Island living room bonding over a book about true love and a pack of cigarettes.” That was the first time I knew I was gonna be friends with this guy, because we had the same favorite book. With On The Might Of Princes, it felt like Jason was always one step ahead of whatever I was trying to do creatively. I was constantly looking up to that dude.
What else did you find yourself writing about when you approached this album?
It depends. The next song on the record, “Trimmed And Burning” was actually about Jason Molina, from Songs: Ohia. He was going through a lot of rehab stuff [and] had this letter he sent to his fans, and he signed it, “Keep the lamps trimmed and burning,” because he was always talking about these gaslights and stuff. It was these two people whose music meant a lot to me, but it’s one I knew really well and one I only knew as a fan. I wanted to put the two together and analyze what that meant for me.
There’s [also] a lot of learning how to accept that it’s okay to be happy, not always having to feel like I have to struggle with everything. There’s a lot of adversity and terrible things that happen all around, but it is okay to just sometimes be happy and be able to just feel good. Historically that hasn’t been easy for me. I don’t want to talk about, “Oh, I’ve been depressed and this [and that],” but I have! I’ve had plenty of those songs—part of that gets scary sometimes. But there’s also times where it’s good, and there is a point where I want that darkness to forgive. S
A version of this piece was published in Substream #49.