Photo Credit: Jacob Pesci
“My favourite new track of the week. Love this.”
Lauren Laverne – BBC 6 Music
“The Chicago quartet’s debut is well-oiled and worn-in indie rock, played with the precision and confidence typically expected from a band much further along in its career.”
The follow-up to Deeper’s already excellent 2018 self-titled debut, Auto-Pain is bigger, more ambitious, and more direct in just about every way…Even at their darkest, the band play with this urgency, a buzzing creative energy that sounds infectiously alive
“The energy in Deeper’s Midwestern indie rock is palpable: It always hits at a blistering pace and not a second is wasted…Deeper’s self-titled debut album is a crash course in icy efficiency.”
“[Deeper are] poised to take their melodic fire power to the next level.”
“This Heat” [is]a driving and dark bit of mutant pop.”
Deeper’s highly anticipated sophomore LP Auto-Pain is out today on Fire Talk Records. The follow up to the band’s critically-acclaimed eponymous 2018 LP, the album was one of Bandcamp‘s best selling indie albums during last Friday’s sale despite being a week out from release, and praise for the album has been coming from all quarters, including in a major Stereogum profile last week where the record was tagged as being “bigger, more ambitious and more direct in just about every way” then the band’s “already excellent” debut.
Yesterday, the band released the final single from the album, a track entitled “The Knife,” along with the accompanying video directed by the Coool team who have recently worked on videos for acts like. Ratboys and Disq. Following the album’s frenetic first single “This Heat” and it’s more contemplative, synth driven follow up “Lake Song,” the LP’s final single provides an insight into the more emotionally intense side of Auto-Pain, embodied by the track’s thrilling outro during which the Deeper’s jagged rhythms mesh with singer/guitarist Nic Gohl’s insistent refrain in a moment of pure catharsis.
“Sometimes we’re unaware of our potential and the gravity of the choices we make in life,” says Gohl. “We retreat into comfortable situations that perpetuate this cycle and hold us back. ‘The Knife’ is about how maybe subconsciously we don’t want to change and how it feels good to remain in the arms of old habits and familiarity. The coda at the end of the song is the breakthrough moment from this thinking; a realization that we can grow once we understand that taking a leap and being uncomfortable will ultimately lead to greater self-satisfaction.”
Deeper had just finished a tour in Europe with their fellow Chicagoans Twin Peaks, and were in the midst of a run to SXSW with Sub Pop signees Corridor that was unfortunately cut short owing to the current crisis. Their upcoming European and UK runs have been temporarily postponed, but the band intend to be reschedule all dates and get back on the road as soon as they are able.
What do you do when pain blots out joy? How do you learn to take care of yourself? What happens when the things you think are helping end up doing the most harm?
When Deeper put out their self-titled debut in 2018, they weren’t ready to approach these questions; by their own admission, they were still trying to discover their collective voice. The group—singer and guitarist Nic Gohl, guitarist Mike Clawson, bassist Drew McBride, and drummer Shiraz Bhatti—were all graduates of Chicago’s rich DIY scene who came together around their love of Wire, Devo, Gang of Four, and Television. Clawson and Gohl were longtime friends who’d met in high school, and whose percussive, fractalised guitar lines already seemed like a private language. Bhatti learned to fit stipples of drumwork in where he could, while McBride gave the group its sense of locomotion.Deeper would take them out of the basement and on national tours with Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and The Districts, and they’d share the stage with Jeff Tweedy in Chicago.
When it came time to start work on their second album, hammering out the same sounds didn’t feel like enough.They wanted to find a way to alchemise the pressures, anxieties, and stresses they felt in their lives into their music.
Auto-Pain is an album about learning how to suffer. It’s also an album about learning how to feel better. The snow-grey synths that blow across the album suggest that it’snot always easy to see the difference. “The whole idea of Auto-Pain was taken from Brave New World,” Gohl says.“They have soma, which makes you feel nothing, but auto-pain makes you feel everything. Let’s feel everything and see what happens at the end of it.”
When Gohl talks about emotional maximalism, he means it. Throughout Auto-Pain, he doubles back on himself, repeating phrases the way you do when you’re trying to get through something awful: “It’s the willingness to ignore it” and “It’s alright, it’s alright” in “Willing,” “I just want you to feel sick” in “Lake Song.” It’s a reminder that repetition can be a calming mantra, but it can just as easily be a form of suppression, or an expression of confusion. “When I’m in my head, I’m completely fixated on one thing,” he says. “The whole idea of the record is being fixated on one thing: getting out of this hole you’re in.” “Sometimes you think you know what’s best for you, but a lot of times you don’t,” McBride adds.
Auto-Pain was initially conceived as a concept album linked together by broken textures,ambient passages, and clinging noise. As the songs began to take shape, the concept faded away, but the lessons it brought about pacing and negative space didn’t. “Because we did start off with it as more of a concept record, we focused less on ‘filling’ the songs,” McBride says. Anew kind of democracy took hold. Gohl elaborates: “This one is more focused on ‘How can we make it sound good’ instead of ‘How can we focus on making sure everyone is playing something cool?’”
Though it retains some of the resolute guitar work of Deeper, Auto-Pain also finds the band embracing open space, using synths to create shadows where bricks of guitars would’ve blocked out the sun. While it’s still within the Great Lakes post-punk tradition of their debut, the album isn’t as insular as its predecessor; it’s less interested in pile driving and more willing to dwell in liminal spaces. Bhatti, who is half-Pakistani and half-Native American, embraced the drumming patterns he’d heard growing up at pow-wows, channelling the anxieties of his heritage into his playing and keeping the group grounded when they switch into all-out percussive attack.
Auto-Pain’s cover, which is decked in Urdu in homage to Bhatti’s family, features an image of Northwestern Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a modernist architectural oddity that was demolished in 2015. In addition to capturing something of the band’s rounded-off brutalism, the image of Prentice—and of Rush Hospital, which appears on the cover of the “Run” single—is meant to evoke the twinned suffering and healing that went into the making of the album.
Even so, the questions Deeper were learning to articulate took on a new reality as the band recorded Auto-Pain. Michael Clawson’s increasing struggles with his mental health had begun to take a bigger and bigger toll on him, and on his ability to relate with his bandmates. He left the group during the recording; the rest of the band moved on, finishing the album as a trio. A short time later, he died by suicide.
“It was progressively getting worse, [though] he didn’t leave the band specifically because of his mental illness,” McBride says. “ I think it made it harder on all of us when he took his life, not being able to have that closure.” “I looked up to him a ton when we were growing up,” Gohl adds. “He’s a little bit older than me and he made my passion for music so much stronger. He was the light when you’re growing up with people you don’t really vibe with. I met him in high school and it was like, ‘This is a homie for life.’”
Auto-Pain is a searingly embodied exploration of how we manage to make it through our days.Generational trauma, mental health, fading friendships, the struggle to connect regardless—these are real concerns arising from real situations, with real implications. As such, it’s an album built on conflict and confusion, one that resolves into a kind of exhausted rebirth.“
The record is the healing,” McBride says. “Actually going through being sick and really needing help and the process of actually getting it down—[it’s] the catharsis, or the release.” And that’s why, whether it’s going blind with static or blinking in a new dirty light, as in “Spray Paint” and“Warm,” the album never loses its sense of possibility—and with that, hope, if not for a return to normalcy, then for a safe arrival at a new normal.
Auto-Pain was recorded in Chicago by Dave Vettraino, and is out now via Fire Talk Records.