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Jeromes Dream: Jeff Smith and Erik Ratensperger expand upon "The Gray In Between"

The band's next full-length chapter is an engrossing endeavor that astounds and informs.

Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):


It's release week for The Gray In Between — the new album by way of trailblazing screamo unit Jeromes Dream, who now partner with Iodine Recordings for another profound chapter in an influential discography. The Gray In Between follows LP (2019), the first studio full-length since a near two decade departure, in ways that intentionally unfold with each passing listening as it sinks its teeth in through gritty lyricism and exhilarating instrumentation. The same level of investment goes into every aspect of the band's releases, and The Grey In Between sports the most cohesive audiovisual delivery of the band's career yet with drummer Erik Ratensperger and frontman Jeff Smith entrenched within its artistic interpretation. We spoke with both musicians leading up to the May 5th release to learn more about this compelling endeavor as the band get set to take album out on the road later this month, allowing audiences across the U.S. to truly grasp it in the flesh.


From the jump, The Gray In Between becomes a weapon against doubt, insecurity, and oppressive forces overall, which are overcome through this musical byproduct of self-expression. When speaking on the the mindset that this release cycle find himself in, Smith comments, "While 'The Gray In Between' reaches deep into my interpretation of the depths of humanity’s sorrow, despair, and rage, it finds me feeling hopeful as we anticipate its release." He adds, "I want to believe that each individual can and will do their part to leave the world a little bit better than they found it. There are twinges of kindness that I see daily that help keep me grounded in a way that I need to keep me sane. It may seem odd, given the harshness of its sound, but I hope 'The Gray In Between' will remind people of their innate empathy and inspire them to keep that kindness going any time they listen to it."



Despite the erratic and irrational behavior of society at large, Smith remains optimistic as streaks of light shine through, offering a sense of hope even if brief. It's evident in the communities that Jeromes Dream pertain to, communities where likeminded individuals gather in celebration of the band's craft. Whatever issues impact each soul that walks into the venue remain at the door. Though Smith understands the emotional weight that their music holds, The Gray In Between wasn't developed with an outward facing perspective. Instead, it's insular in that it pleased the band's own emotional and creative ambitions before anything else. "Our writing almost never begins with any purpose in mind other than to create something that satisfies our own creative and emotional needs," says Smith. It's here that the music connects. "We start from a completely visceral place and as musical, lyrical, and visual ideas start to come together, we then start to find a meaningful arc. In the rare case we find ourselves with a specific idea that we’d like to develop from scratch, it always becomes something entirely different than what we originally intended. Everything we create has its own personality while still being distinctly JD." The creative process operated organically from inception onward, and the final result we see now was as raw and true as it gets.


Jeromes Dream are not one to operate on fixed compositional structures. As Smith notes, ideas are implemented as they come and are constantly in flux until the unit feels they are ready to be cemented. The same approach applies to their visual identity and for The Gray In Between, they've been very intentional about every aspect, as one could see in the merch designs, Erik Ratensperger-designed album cover, and music videos released so far. For example, Stretched Invisible From London is a testament to the power of art in the contemporary state of affairs.



"The visual and sonic narrative synchronizing together is very important to us — our visuals have always been super intentional, but with 'The Gray In Between', we took it even further," says Ratensperger. "Not only does visual presentation virtually affect how one interacts with almost anything they come in contact with — in this context, it can serve as another vital component to the work itself — I love the psychological aspect of this type of curation." When bands understand the relationship between the two mediums, what yields is truly seamless and Jeromes Dream excel on this end.


Ratensperger continues on the collaborative aspect of their visual approach, "I also love the fact that we also collaborated with some wonderful people to help shape this vision: for example, all of the visualizers for every song on the record were done by our good friend Mike York (Pianos Become The Teeth), and we work with other friends like Chris Norris (Reversal of Man, CWV, Steak Mountain) on several of the new merch graphics." More than merely passing along a project or commissioning a design to a third party, Jeromes Dream bring along friends and partners who are as invested as they are in the work being crafted, and it shows.

Artwork by Chris Norris

It's unique whenever bands have artists or visually oriented members among their fold and with Jeromes Dream, Ratensperger plays a significant role in it all. "I design a lot of the stuff too, including the art direction of our packaging, websites and prompt materials, etc. It’s fun." Talking specifically about the album cover, it is certainly ambiguous and fits well with the album’s themes of fear and anxiety as a natural reaction to the world surrounding us. Ratensperger elaborates, "We were intentional about harnessing a level of simplicity when it came to the album art and packaging. We aimed to make it as no-frills as possible, but to still evoke a feeling of isolation, loneliness — and you are correct — ambiguity; while still being a beautiful object. I think the bare bones nature of the artwork compliments the music: both create a singular work, and we’re really proud of it." There's much to be proud of; that's for certain.


Another welcome element of The Gray In Between was the multi-dimensional perspectives taken in the band's approach on crafting a work of prose — one that feels significantly angrier and more urgent than on previous albums. The aforementioned Stretched Invisible From London placed the band narratively amidst a Ukrainian warzone and other offerings make similar perspective shifts. There's perhaps a strong sense of realization that comes from writing in this way. It's certainly cathartic. "Writing 'The Gray In Between' was a slow process for us. It allowed us to sit with each song as an individual piece before we put everything together. Lyrically, I had to sit with my ideas for some time." Smith expands upon it further, "It was a difficult place to be and it was often challenging to find myself in the headspace to write each day and then pick my son up from school and be with him in a positive way. Perhaps some of that need for compartmentalization is what led me to go deeper into the morass to pull out what I could. Taking myself this deeply into the ideas and memories I write about helps me to feel connected to all of myself. It helps me to appreciate the full range of my emotion." There's power in this expression and Smith alludes to how well art and music present themselves as avenues for their delivery, both of which inspire and allow us to ground ourselves into the experiences that make us unique. In this fast-paced, hyper commercialized environment that we find ourselves in, some of that is unfortunately lost.



To make up for the unfortunate disconnect, Smith acknowledges the importance that should be placed on these introspective moments, even if brief, to allow for reflection and introspection. "This is something I think about constantly. I worry about our ability to disconnect in a society that encourages and embraces connectivity. This is particularly important to me as a parent as I try to imagine what it must be like for children growing up in this environment of disconnected connectedness. I often feel helpless to stem the tide of information and misinformation that overloads my own brain. How do our smallest people develop when there is a constant bombardment of content? I find myself feeling overwhelmed and distraught about this almost daily, and as I answer this question, I look out the window and find myself amidst a beautiful snowy landscape in the California mountains. Yet, here I am, still completely connected. After I finish I’m going to go for a nice, slow, long run to help disconnect from the digital world, clear my head, and reconnect with what is important to me." The grounding moments of disconnect are to be valued, especially with a great feeling of detachment that comes from releasing a record. Upon the release of each single and video and with every day that grows nearer to the album's release, Jeromes Dream let go of a moment in time, a moment unique to that particular release cycle. As audiences engage, it becomes something new to each respective listener, perhaps distinct to that of which inspired its creative development. That's the beauty of music and Smith embraces this process wholeheartedly. He concludes, "As much of this conversation has been centered around individual experience and reflection, it’s all I can possibly hope to inspire in those who sit down and listen to it. I want people to immerse themselves in it, examine its nuances without distraction, if possible. But, regardless of your individual experience with it, enjoy the moments you spend with it. I hope it inspires you to find or create or slow down or whatever it is that you need to enrich your life in a positive way."


The Gray In Between is not an immediately accessible experience, but rather a rewarding one that grants neat moments to those willing to bask in its layers. What Smith and co. achieve here is a high mark that is best felt over time, and that it will.


The Gray In Between arrives May 5th via Iodine Recordings (Order).

Cover Artwork by Erik Ratensperger

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