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THE SPILL CANVAS
In recent years, nostalgia shows have really taken off. Bands who haven’t made music for a while get back together and play some shows in celebration of whatever album of theirs is having an anniversary. It’s not a bad thing. Those gigs can be great, and reconnecting with the records that had an impact on you – or with the fans, if you’re an artist – is a wonderful feeling. For The Spill Canvas’ Nick Thomas, however, that wasn’t enough. The band had done 10 year anniversary tours for both 2005’s third album, One Fell Swoop, and 2007’s follow-up No Really, I’m Fine (which was released on Warner and reached the number 2 spot on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart), but they didn’t scratch the itch Thomas felt to actually make music – the band’s last full-length was 2012’s Gestalt, while Thomas’ 2014 solo album Shadowars was essentially just repurposed Spill Canvas songs. But now the band has returned with Conduit, its first full-length in almost a decade.
“It feels amazing,” says Thomas. “We’d seen all these bands doing resurgence nostalgia tours for 10, 15, even 20 year album anniversaries, but I wanted to know if any of them were still putting out new music, because writing has always been what I love most. I’ve been waiting for this new album for nine years.”
To be fair, the band dabbled with new music a few years before, releasing a three-song EP called Hivemind in 2018. But listening to these 10 songs it’s clear that Conduit is more than a new Spill Canvas album. Rather, it’s the start of a second phase for the band. Now completed by longtime bassist Landon Heil, drummer Bryce Job and lead guitarist Evan Pharmakis from Vanna/Wind In Sails, together they reached deep into Thomas’ heart and soul to create something that bristles with the earnest, emotional urgency that was always at the band’s core, but which also reflects who Thomas is now and everything that made him into that person. That includes his struggles with addiction, getting married, being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and the death of his mother. All those things flow through these songs, but rather than let them get the better of him, Thomas instead confronts them – and the many chaotic, conflicting feelings they induce in him – head on. As he sings on the intense, slow-burning near-rapture of “Cost”: ‘I revel in this turbulence/I love to hate myself.’
“That line is very much at the core of what the record is about,” chuckles Thomas, “because you kind of do revel in this turbulence. That’s what it feels like to have nine years’ worth of things to write about! Obviously, I don’t enjoy the pain, and I don’t actually love to hate myself. It’s very much tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time it captures everything that’s been going on – it speaks directly to my dual diagnosis of being a poly substance addict, to the schizoaffective disorder, to the severe imposter syndrome I feel and my really bad body and physical appearance dysmorphia. I mean, I just had so much to write about.”
Interestingly, despite all that inspiration to draw from, Thomas found himself questioning his ability to do so. “Blueprints”, for example, is a beautiful and poignant tribute to his late mother, but it also finds the singer wrestling with the idea that a song isn’t enough to capture his grief. ‘This is a poor attempt at moving on,’ he sings with very audible resignation. The irony is that self-awareness – the admission that the song can’t do his mom justice – makes it all the more powerful. In fact, it ensures that it does do her memory justice. That kind of emotional gravitas permeates this record. “Akathisia” is named after a condition experienced by Thomas after switching medications for his schizoaffective disorder and serves as an apology to his wife for what she has to go through because of it, while “Gallon” details his frustration at how, because of his disorder, performing the simplest tasks can become incredibly difficult. ‘Cyclical, queasy / Nothing is easy / I hear myself / Convince myself to try,’ he sings over one of the album’s most gentle, tender melodies before admitting: ‘Yet still, I kinda wanna die.’ It’s a remarkable moment of honesty, but one he doesn’t want to be misconstrued.
“Sometimes, these tiny, insignificant moments and things add up and incapacitate me,” he explains. “It’s ridiculous, because like I overcame a heroin addiction, so how am I that strong yet I still struggle with everyday things like trying to write an email while the dogs are barking at the mailman? But while I’m telling the truth when I sing that ‘I kind of want to die’, it’s not suicidal thoughts. I just want the onslaught of normal life to stop sometimes, to not exist for a moment. It’s a grey area that I’m trying to kind of bring a little humor to – which likely comes from my addiction treatment experience. I tend to embrace humor within darkness because it shines a spotlight on difficult subjects, which in turn gets it out in the open, where it can’t hold the same power over you.”
Yet there are also moments of pure joy on Conduit. Both the up-tempo, electro-tinged “Calendars” and the beautiful, ethereal “Molecules” – which features backing vocals from Eisley’s Sherri Dupree Bemis – were written for Thomas’ wife. They’re as much declarations of love as a way to thank her for being there for him through everything, and they serve as a perfect antidote to the turbulence and troubles that pervade the rest of the album. With the exception of the latter song – which came together remotely during the pandemic – Conduit was recorded at Soundmine Studios in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Self-produced by the band with help from their manager John Rupp, it was mixed by Soundmine Studio owner Dan Malsch and then mastered by GRAMMY Award-winning mastering engineer Emily Lazar, who’s worked with Beck, the Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Haim and The Killers, to name a few.
The result is a collection of rich, full songs that, while still recognizable as The Spill Canvas, certainly highlight Thomas’ intention for this to be the start of something new. At its heart, though, the purpose of the band remains the same as it always was – to write songs that move people and to be able to connect with them.
“I hope our old fans enjoy it, while gaining an appreciation for our new direction,” says Thomas, ““but I also aim to gain new fans. During the height of our previous success, the music industry was wildly different from today, and Conduit is a way of proving to myself that we still have something viable that people can, and want to, connect with. I don’t seek to be some massive arena act, although that'd be rad, my hope is more so getting as many new ears to listen and resonate with it so that they’re like ‘I am now a fan of this band for life.’ That's the dream."
Originally from West Penn, PA, Jacob Kulick who now goes solely by his surname, turned his tiny closet into his own private music studio at age 12 and began writing and recording songs as a way to cope with his anxiety and the loneliness of being an outcast. “Middle school was a tough time—I went through a lot of disassociation and bullying, like a lot of people do when they’re different in a small town,” says the 28-year-old singer/songwriter.
Kulick co-founded a high school band Story of Another, self-produced his own album and went on to study audio engineering at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. He got a job with CBS Radio in New York City as an engineer and crossed paths with a fellow musician who had a connection at RCA Records. Once he’d landed an introductory meeting with the label, Kulick devoted the next two years to building up his solo material and collaborating with other writers. In summer 2017, those two years of intense creativity led to Kulick signing a deal with RCA/Gold’n Retriever Records.
A tour with Sleeping with Sirens and The Rocket Summer in 2018 was followed by the release of his debut EP Hydroplane, which featured the powerful Active Rock charting single “Ghost,” and went on to accumulate over 3 million streams worldwide. In 2019, he toured with Andy Black and The Faim and released a standalone single titled “Scatterbrain,” which he explains is a song about, “today’s busy society, both young and old, and the battle to stay true to who you are.”
With the impending release of his debut full-length titled “Yelling in a Quiet Neighborhood,” out on October 16th via ENCI Records, the Southern California label recently launched by industry veteran Pat Magnarella (longtime manager of Goo Goo Dolls), Kulick continues to showcase his rare ability to turn everyday pain into music that’s undeniably life-affirming.
Of the album’s lead single “Rope,” Kulick says, “(the track) was written immediately after getting off of the US and Canada tour with Andy Black and The Faim in May 2019. I had a tough year in my personal life, and I wasn’t ready to face it when I got home. I wrote this song with my drummer Keith Gensure, who I’ve known and played music with most of my life, and I felt safe enough to write this very personal song with him.”
He adds, “This was written when I was feeling so unsure of what to do when I got home. It was such a rollercoaster of wanting life to be the way it was before I left for tour, and some days wanting to start over. I knew something was wrong, I didn’t like who I was while I was gone, and I didn’t recognize who I was before I left. It really took a toll on the people in my life that I really love and care about, especially those closest to me, and for the rest of my life I’ll wish I handled it differently.”
With the album’s recurring themes of Uncertainty, Guilt, Sadness, Shame, Love, Remorse, and Closure, Kulick explains, “It is the record where I learned the most about who I am and how much of that reality I was avoiding. This record is me. You know how nice it is to really feel like that? It’s incredible! I love the ‘Hydroplane’ EP, but I didn’t feel like it was entirely me. I wanted to be more hands on with making the music, producing it, and engineering my songs. On this record I was allowed that, thanks to my new label ENCI and my managers Pat Magnarella and Steve Masi. I wrote this record for most of the year, and got to produce the songs with Chris Szczech in LA. I was able to record live drums in Capitol Records and track all of my own vocals and instruments. So it was a completely different process and I enjoyed every moment creating it. It was my therapy like it always is, but in the most trying time of my life.”
As Kulick prepares to release this new deeply personal collection of songs into the world, he’s looking forward to getting back out on the road, armed with the lessons he learned during the making of the new record.
“I am ready to tour as soon as it is safe to. I miss my friends and everyone who shares these songs with me. I miss their energy. When we’re able to tour again, look forward to hearing the first record that is truly a KULICK record. I look forward to sharing it with everyone.”
Cinema Stare is a pop-punk band formed in 2019 in New Haven, Connecticut. The members began writing together and within the first few sessions discovered a shared musical foundation built atop the catalogs of Drive-Thru and Victory Records bands. The group cemented its lineup with the addition of vocalist Quinn Miller and shortly after signed with No Sleep Records. Unable to tour, the band spent the rest of 2020 demoing out a new full-length and in April jumped into the studio with producer Chris Teti (TWIABP, Fiddlehead) to record it. Cinema Stare's latest LP, due out in 2022, will iron out any creases their writing has left and deliver a sound that is sure to break the band's ceiling.