As Cities Burn singer and guitarist Cody Bonnette on UK weather, touring and finding his voice.
Tonight’s show marks the first time that As Cities Burn have set foot upon a UK stage, hell, it’s the first time the band have played a show outside of their home country, like ever. Prior to this evening’s appearance, to no more than 40 people in the most intimate of Basingstoke’s venues, the band have spent the last two days in our capital city, immersing themselves in all things British. On my arrival, the band were proudly presenting the Union Jack guitar picks they’d picked up from Camden market.
I caught up with lead singer and guitarist, Cody Bonnette, huddled on a set of concrete steps just outside the venue:
“Are you sure it was too loud to do this inside? I’m really not used to this cold.” are the first words to leave his lips, which I swear are turning blue.
So, apart from the cold weather, what are your first impressions of our little country?
We’ve been staying in a hostel called The Green Man in London, which has been so great. I’m not a huge fan of any city, like New York or Chicago back home, but we’ve having a great time in the UK and the shows haven’t even started yet. It can only get better.
Returning to shows after a hiatus, was that a conscious decision, or did it just happen?
We got offered a show that was a good opportunity for us. We’re all scattered across a pretty large area, so it takes a lot of time and money to get together and practice in one place, which can make things difficult. It started off with one show, a big festival that gave us enough money to make it worth our while. Everything aside, we enjoyed ourselves on stage again, the shows snowballed into more shows and other offers in different places.
On and off, As Cities Burn have been a band for 10 years. You’re all a lot older than when you first decided to do this, do you find that you have to take into account other factors before reforming and becoming a touring band again?
Whenever you’re starting out, you get a van and you just jump in, you eat really cheap fast food and you sleep on somebody’s floor. Returning to becoming a band from a scattered group of individuals, who all have jobs or education commitments that have to be left behind, is a lot harder than it was 8 years ago. It’s easier for us to just do one off shows here or there than to dive right back into things. We don’t have any intention of being full time again, we just can’t.
We’ve always wanted to come oversees, to Europe and the UK, and never got a chance to do it the first time around, something which I think ate at all of us. Now that opportunity has come up since we’ve opened up the As Cities Burn can again, and I’m more than thrilled that this is happening.
Has the recent string of shows rekindled your passion for touring and the band?
If we did it every day, like we used to, then I don’t think it would be as special. Now that shows are less frequent, they’re all the more special when we do play; every show is awesome.
You still play shows with heavier bands and within the environment that heavier music generates at shows, despite your last two records departing from that sound. Is the whole atmosphere surrounding a hardcore show something which still appeals to you?
Our first record [Son I Loved You At Your Darkest, 2005] was heavy because we toured with a lot of heavy bands at that time, but I’ve never really listened to much heavy music. I loved the first Norma Jean release [Bless The Martyr and Kiss the Child, 2002], it’s a very important record. Other than that, I didn’t really take to any other heavy stuff. It’s fun to play, it’s very fun to play, and the scene is cool and a great community to be a part of. When we toured with those sort of bands, it definitely rubbed off on us and influenced our music, but what we were really listening to was more rock-based.
Musically, is there anything from that era that you still take with you?
There’s a lot of music that we’ve carried with us and that still drives us today. I really love Elliot Smith as a singer / songwriter. Bands like Jimmy Eat World have always stayed with us, and have been a particularly strong influence on our drummer. Chris, our other guitar player really loves a band called Animal Collective.
Classical music is something that I’ll always listen to here and there, sometimes I’ll put on classical pieces in my house and appreciate how the music can flow together. With rock music, you have a snare, kick drum and distortion to take up all the space, but with classical music, melody is all you’ve really got.
What’s it like being in a Christian band in today’s world, have you found yourselves having to redefine your thinking through your shows, or through your song writing?
Absolutely, every day. We’re faced with new questions all the time that all have to be answered, and faith is constantly being redefined to fit a changing world. 2000 years ago, there was no television or radio – there was the thirty-mile radius that Jesus walked, that’s it. It was only until generations later that people started talking about Jesus; no one that knew him wrote down anything. In Christianity, you have you use your mind and think a lot about what somebody will tell you is true, without ever knowing that it is; you have to test things with your own spirit and create your own truths. It’s never the same for two people and you can have conversations about that for ever.
Music is a part of that conversation and that’s what we’ll always try to do as a band. I think the influence that music can have on people’s thinking will only grow with time. There’s so many more ideas and views to access and ever-easier ways of accessing them, all help people to further their thinking and form their own views, whether that’s about God or anything else.
Music is just a background. You’ll have lyrics that will have a certain message and music rests underneath to support the idea, or suspend it with a feeling. We were talking the other day about how on YouTube they’ve taken the movie ‘The Shining’ and made it into a comedy, just by overdubbing it with a happy soundtrack.
Are there any plans for a new record with As Cities Burn?
No. I’m going to write something else, but I don’t know if it will be called As Cities Burn. At this moment, I don’t believe in just functioning within a band; I don’t think that it’s always a good idea to try and write something within that box.
Before, we would have to write with bigger goals in mind; today we don’t need reach the next point because we already have the means to support ourselves, we don’t need to do this for a living. Now this is a hobby, which, to me makes it more pure. It doesn’t matter if I write the silliest stuff that no one ends up liking – it’s just something that I wrote because it was real at that time. I’ve been silent these past couple of years, and I think that’s OK. If you’ve lost your voice musically or lyrically, it’s ok to take a step back for a while, it will come back when it’s ready.
Do you think this string of shows will help you find your voice?
I can’t really say, who knows?! Just being over here and being part of this culture for 15 day is educational for me, it’s all a brand new experience and that thrills me.
LUKE M HOPKINS