Shifting the narrative through bombastic sound and destructive visuals.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
The contemporary hardcore arena is a stronghold that delivers big with each passing month, among them being Incendiary's hard-hitting Change The Way You Think About Pain. Released on May 26th via the always consistent Closed Casket Activities, Change The Way You Think About Pain came forth as another momentous entry in an already celebrated discography through intentional lyricism, explosive songcraft, and for the purposes of this article, a striking visual introduction by way of Daniel Danger (Tiny Media Empire). Though its customary to trademark every new album as being a band's best, the Long Island natives dug deep and poured themselves into one staggering audiovisual experience welcoming engagement. More than it being a reflection of the band's body, mind, and soul at the time of recording, Change The Way You Think About Pain is a driving force and statement harnessing from the turmoil of our surroundings.
We go Behind the Cover of Change The Way You Think About Pain with Incendiary frontman Brendan Garrone and multi-faceted artist Daniel Danger to understand its urgency, its vulnerabilities, and its visual intention:
'Change The Way You Think About Pain' is here and now being taken out on the road throughout the summer, allowing audiences to really grasp its profound nature. In what mindset did this release cycle find you in, especially with it being your first full length in a very interesting six years?
Brendan: I'm trying to get into the groove a little bit more because I've been more eager than ever. It's kind of been a while but we came into it at an interesting point because post-COVID and after we released our last record ('Thousand Mile Stare', 2017), we were in a little bit of a different place as a band. I find us now feeling more established to the point where I almost feel more pressure to kind of move the ball forward. I'm more eager to see the kind of reactions we get and how people think of everything. It's really, really exciting because we've been waiting for this. We recorded it around this time last year, maybe a little bit later, so there was a lot of anticipation on our end to release it.
The reception is certainly there. With all this excitement riding on it, would you say that the album was developed with a particular purpose in mind, or was the process more so insular in that you aim to please your own emotional and creative ambitions first and foremost?
We've never really felt too much pressure to adhere to a certain album cycle. The concern from our end was that if we felt like we were adhering to some kind of artificial timeline, it would probably be reflected in the music feeling a little bit forced. If I'm honest with you, we have so much fun playing that the focus for this album was playing shows. That's kind of what we do, so we were waiting until we all felt like we had it in us. Brian, the guitar player, had a musical vision and was off to the races once he got a flow going, so we all collectively jumped on board and it felt natural.
It came about organically as a byproduct of playing. Your environment and ongoing experiences as musicians informed it all.
Yes, 100%. That's what I mean by the album cycle thing. It wasn't like, "Ah okay, now it's time to write an album." We waited until it felt like we were ready to go and we were all on the same page. When it's like that, it doesn't feel so much as work. It's more natural, so we all felt motivated to be on the same page with whatever it is that we're doing. We all have a really good personal and working relationship, so it extended to that.
I like our band because we're also best friends in real life, and I think that helps 99% of the time. When we all made the decision to get on board for this album, we came at it with the intention of having fun in the process. Not to sound redundant, but if there's one person who maybe doesn't want to do a show or doesn't want to do a tour or doesn't want to do an album, it kind of brings things down. Everyone was motivated and excited for this, and that fuels the creative process.
You can definitely see that, even in the way you express yourself about this album. People can distinguish when lyricism and an album's overall composition is honest compared to something that was developed with a more marketable or forced focus. This album is raw and personable, especially with there being an introspective element to the songwriting as well as an outward facing one that comes influenced by the sociopolitical complexities of American society. For you, would you say that those two factors intersect?
That's a very interesting observation! I've never heard it phrased that way. To contextualize things, I've always felt that the kind of music that we play and the larger hardcore punk genre always had some external type of lyrical content, at least for me. That's always kind of been a draw for me throughout Incendiary. As I've gotten older, I have wanted to or attempted to bring more personal elements to the table, which is difficult, right? It's a lot. It's more vulnerable. I felt that a lot of the times with those lyrics, especially the more personal stuff, were very inward, and it happened accidentally or organically, if you will. When I'm writing, I'm kind of writing at myself like some sort of cathartic self analysis.
To answer your question a little bit more directly, I do think they intersect because it keeps it more dynamic and I want to be inspired. I never want to fall into a pit of where I feel like I have to write song about a certain thing. If it comes out, it comes out naturally, and it reflects what I'm feeling at the time. When writing about something more personal. it helps to operate in this way because it gets it out of my system.
Agreed. Album cycles are essentially a timestamp of where you are as a person and as a band at the time, and that of course evolves over time as you grow older and get exposed to new experiences that subconsciously factor into the compositional element. 'Change The Way You Think About Pain' is Incendiary at your most refined.
I appreciate you saying that. We've always taken pride in being our realest selves. We don't front and we don't act any particular way as if to give off the impression we're some tough guys. We don't write super "tough" or edgy lyrics or anything like that. You basically nailed it by saying this album is a reflection of where I am in my life now, in this moment in time. I'm trying to as accurately convey the time and the place that I'm in without having to feel like I'm writing to something to the Incendiary of 2014, you know what I mean? I've been so comfortable with myself to let me do that. You have to trust yourself to be honest.
People pick up on that. You as an artist have an immediate sense of realization after having seen a song through. Continuing along those lines, 'Change The Way You Think About Pain' is as we sort of mentioned, an act of reflection and a social commentary. Is there a feeling of detachment that you feel upon letting it go and seeing it becomes something new and unique to each listener? Like art, music is subjective and up to the interpretation of the listener.
It's the single most fascinating part of releasing an album, particularly as the lyricist, to see how the songs resonate or don't with people. It's fascinating to see what meaning they draw from it, accurate or not, and what life it takes on its own. It's interesting to see what songs will "do well" in whatever metric you want to use, whether in the live setting or otherwise. You really don't know. Certain songs wind up resonating with people unexpectedly and I think it's it's a point of extreme vulnerability. You're putting yourself out there into a song or album, release it, and then kind of sit back a little bit and let people draw their own conclusions. You have to be okay with that and that is a learned skill. It's not easy.
Vulnerability is a perfect way of describing what the experience is like. Once it begins circulating on the web and through the lens of listeners worldwide, the impact and longevity of it will be seen. This extends into the album cover as well, which sports an ambiguous Daniel Danger piece that can be open to a few interpretations. You have a parent standing beside a child as vehicles are floating amidst destruction. What did you aim to capture when approaching the visual element of the release?
That's a great question. Daniel is someone that I had known as a friend of a friend. He worked on a musical project called Some Stranger with my friend Tym, and that's where I was initially turned on to him. Daniel is an incredibly talented artist and his work is amazing. I encourage people to seek him out. The vibe of his art is hard to describe, which is ethereal and has a lot of texture and color to it.
We had wanted to work with Daniel from the jump if I'm honest. The basic direction that we took with him was not telling him anything except sending him the album and the lyrics with zero direction on purpose. I wanted to see what he would come up with. The album seemed to resonate with him, which I think helps obviously, and he came up with a lot of the themes that he pulled from the album. Getting back to your last point, some of those elements were what I had in mind, and some weren't. We talked through it a lot and I think the finished product is something that we wanted to be purposely ambiguous as long as the overall mood felt right. I feel like he nailed it for us. We were personally satisfied with that as a companion to the to the album, if you will.
It's very fitting to the record. Daniel, before anyone jumps into it, they're met by your wondrous work. The more you listen to the record and put the pieces together along with the record, the grander it becomes. On your end, what inspired the creative direction?
Daniel: Me being a hardcore punk kid played a big part in it. That's who I am. I've played in hardcore bands and punk bands and noisy things forever, but a lot of my time these days is spent doing illustrations for bands that I don't necessarily listen to. I do work for a lot of jam bands and things that are just not really my speed, but you know, it pays the mortgage and whatnot. It's good work, but I was anxious to do something for a band that I actually cared about, like truly enjoyed, and was more my speed. I was talking with Justin from Closed Casket and he had said that they really wanted to work with me, but they were afraid that I would say no or something. I was like, "Absolutely not, I would love to." I wanted something darker and a little bit less jam band.
The thing about client work is that there's the aesthetic of what I do in my personal work, like all my art prints and stuff that I'm known for, and then the band's aesthetic, and you're trying to find a middle ground between the two, especially for things like concert posters. For this album artwork, they came to me and wanted more of a Daniel Danger piece, something that would resemble more of what I would do on my own if left to my own devices. I then started digging in to the lyrics a little bit and the kind of aesthetics they're looking for. I kind of wanted to make something that resembled the aspects of safety, which kind of went out the window a little bit. Ambulances are flipping over on themselves and flying up in the air. There's all this kind of chaos amongst it all, amongst this riot. It's really about making something that felt really unsettling, and as you said, still open to interpretation.
I wanted to give people a little bit of a thread to follow with few elements in the piece to find commonality with, like the mother and child. If you focus on them, it reads very different than if you focus on the ambulances or the riot, enabling different guttural reactions. It all began with this idea of safety in comfort and then expanding from there trying to make little vignettes amongst the image. I kind of just landed in a place of ambulances, perhaps because I've always loved to ride in them.
I recall you mentioning that the only change in direction that occurred was to have less ambulances. It would seem that you guys pretty much nailed the creative direction early on after Brendan gave you all the the different musical elements and the freedom to do whatever with it. Less direction is always welcome, some artists would say.
Daniel: Yeah, there was actually a list of things they would have liked in there, but it wasn't strict or long by any means. If you think of a cover like Green Day's 'Dookie' (1994) album cover, there's a zillion things going on and there's not really much of a focal point. I'm always getting really cautious when a band gives me a list and says "Here's everything I want in the image" because then I just feel like I'm an imagery machine. When they gave me that list, I sort of envisioned what they were probably seeing in their brain and they gave me free reign to convey some of these ideas, change some others, and try to find something that establishes a middle ground between the concepts. This cover is a collision of what I thought they were trying to convey and how well I conveyed that.
It's been some time since I've sat in thought about this, but I remember the red light in particular being the key to it all. It's front and center on the cover and that's something that most people have a very automatic response to of pausing. Even amongst a chaotic image like that, if you put a little red light, you tend to kind of sit there and stop for a second. Putting that above the mother and child gives your brain a little bit of place to pause within this very chaotic scene. I always really liked the idea of an ambulance at a stop sign because ambulances have this sense of urgency to them. When you tell an ambulance to stop, it feels as though they're at odds with each other. It's a tense situation.
The red light is also the only non-purple or non-black element I recall throughout the entirety of the cover. Other than the band logo, it's the starting point for glancing eyes.
Daniel: Touching on that a bit, we were working out colors at one point because the band has a trend of having color schemes to each of their full-length records. They were thinking of doing more of a green colorway and I was like, "Well, I can't do a green light because a green light means a very different thing." They opted for purple and that's what we worked with. I'm actually trying to find the exact conversation I had with them and Justin from Closed Casket of where I pitched the piece after having them introduce the concept of the crash imagery and the lyrics. This was actually my exact response:
"This was certainly a tough nugget conceptually, but I landed somewhere. I think it's a nice middle ground between what you wrote and the album's themes, the record, and what I do, and what I say is going to be very stream of conscience obviously. All of us have been thinking about essentially what happens when people just let the world stop functioning, stop considering the basic hallmarks of society over the selfish MAGA self. Society stops being real, things stop being real. There's no trust and safety, etc. We needed something anxiety inducing, chaotic, violent, and movement. The whole image is hinged around the idea of the red stoplight, nicely centered on the front cover. It's one of the first things children learn. I'll always take any opportunity to draw an ambulance, but for going on 20 years now, an image that's always stuck in my head but it's never found its way out is the idea of an ambulance stopped at a red light while stuck in traffic. The need to help people at war within an emotionless system, at the red light. Yeah, taking that idea and putting it into what you said about people just running red lights and getting into car wrecks, cluttering the streets with death and wreckage and chaos, protestors, fire, and smoke, the mother and child engulfed by all but calm. This is no longer a real place and gravity doesn't even need to apply anymore if the ambulances are just hurled into the air having hit visible objects and being torn apart as they spiral, leaping something. Everything is going to continue to hurl forward violently, even if it doesn't make a lick of sense anymore."
That's how I pitched it with the earliest sketch of it, which was a small pencil sketch.
It's hard not to want to that after an explanation like that.
Daniel: I wanted it to feel like not necessarily a realistic scene, but a cohesive scene of all this stuff that's happening in a real place at the same time versus just a smorgasbord of little images, you know?
Definitely. Did the music play a role at all or was the influence purely conceptual and lyrical?
Daniel: There's an energy to it that certainly works its way in. I always joke that my favorite kind of music is music that sounds like a panic attack. Incendiary definitely has those moments. Having a cover that feels very anxiety inducing with pockets of calmness in the front there is a little bit of a play on that. It's kind of like when you're having some sort of a panic attack or having some big moment of anxiety and finding a thing to focus on to kind of get yourself through it.
I've been surrounded by punk and hardcore music for so long that it's just so normal to me. I didn't really consider the sound of the band because I'm very much familiar and accustomed to it, so it's more so focused on the themes and what they wanted to do with the material. They're definitely a band who is smarter about it, which is why I think that they have found so much success. It's not dummy breakdown music, you know? It's not mosh for the sake of mosh. There is a very clear message and a lot of intelligence in the lyrics. There's also the notion of the smarter you are, the harder you look at things, the scarier things become and the more anxiety inducing things become. Incendiary is definitely a band that sees what's happening, sees the reality of it, sees the grayscale of it all and that's what they portray.
Agreed, they're intentional about every element of their music. I'm glad this was a great experience for you, especially with you wanting to do a cover of this kind for some time. I think it's a very strong introduction of your work to a new audience that perhaps wouldn't otherwise have engaged with it. You of course have a very broad roster of clients from across the musical spectrum, but would you say that it was freeing in a sense to come back into heavy music and operate under a very loose instruction?
Daniel: Absolutely. At the start of my career, 20 years ago, the majority of the stuff that I was doing was punk and hardcore and emo bands and such, so it was very easy to work within that aesthetic and the themes that I was really comfortable with. I did my own personal work for a long time, and I still do. It's actually a lot of what I do and I get to completely play in my own playground, so to speak.
Commissions allow me to do everything else, but I will say that it's hard to put myself into the visuals of some of that work because for Phish or Dave Matthews, they want a sense of community, nature, and happiness. The events they play are big, happy events and I'm happy to do that work. I can make it work, but there's always a little bit of internal fighting against what I would probably do if given full control. When I'm working with some of these bands. I feel like I'm pitching to the audience versus necessarily what I would do myself. I have to take into consideration what your average jam band fan is going to like. With hardcore and punk bands and these kinds of things, they're really okay with me going dark and weird because I'm going to give them my true self. I'm not going to worry about the community or I'm not going to worry about whether everyone likes it because that's not what this entire genre of music is about. It's not about appealing to 60,000 people at some big outdoor festival. It's about making sure that people see an authentic vision from someone, so to answer your question, yes, it is freeing to work on something like this. The doors are open for me to make it darker, weirder, scarier, and a little more intense, and it doesn't need to be friendly. This culture is more okay with me doing what I do and being realer about it. The permission has been granted to make "pure" work, I guess maybe that's the word.
This cover is Daniel Danger in true form without being tainted by all sorts of external factors, especially with album covers being that much more significant than a show poster despite some commonalities.
Daniel: There's definitely some crossover, but with an album cover, you're trying to give the audience their first clue as to what they're about to listen to. You're trying to give them the first push in the right direction of how they're going to think about the songs and how they're going to spend their time with a record. The joy of vinyl records and physical media is that you're gonna sit there with a booklet and artwork, open it up and lay everything out. That's not how you experience a concert, you know? It's a big honor to be asked to cover. It's a lot of pressure. When you do a cover that depicts chaos, anxiety, lights blooming, and intense feelings, it carries over into the record. I'm very proud of this one.
Brendan, how significant a role do you feel that the visual component plays in the larger purpose of 'Change The Way You Think About Pain'? Beyond the collaboration with Daniel, you had the Derek Rathbun music video and everything else that built a cohesive visual identity for this album cycle. 'Thousand Mile Stare' (2017) was also very intentional to the central theme of surveillance, so it's evident that you place a great emphasis on this element.
As you mention, we find that it's really important. We've been so lucky to work with some really talented artists. With 'Cost of Living' (2013), we worked with Jon Contino, who is Long Island hardcore guy. He's just an incredibly talented artist and graphic designer and he put together this artwork that sort of became like iconic. I'm not trying to sound conceited but that cover really did resonate with a lot of people.
We used a photo for 'Thousand Mile Stare', which was the central element for that. As soon as I saw it, I was like, "Okay, that's the album cover."
For this one, we were very focused on having it be different in its own unique way but also having a trusted adviser in it. We have a variety of opinions when it comes to the visual element because as we've talked about, it's really important. What we don't often have is the skill to execute that vision. Over the years, we've focused so much time finding collaborative partners who we felt could take what we are trying to do and bring it to the world. We don't have that capability, so it becomes this exploratory process of landing with somebody. There has to be connectivity throughout each album, which has its own tone and color palette, reflecting the kind of album it is. We accomplished that for 'Change The Way You Think About Pain' as well. We feel comfortable with what we've accomplished through Daniel.
The visual and lyrical interplay between the two speaks to how great this collaboration is. Those who bought the vinyl and have glanced through it would agree. We've touched on a lot of great points, and in closing, 'Change The Way We Think About Pain' is a multi dimensional work of prose that is both internal and external facing. It's angrier, more urgent, and vulnerable as you take on a plethora of significant topics, such as the migrant crisis in Europe. Upon completing the songwriting or overall creative process, is there perhaps a strong sense of realization that comes from writing in this way? You learn from every album and this is arguably the most realized version of Incendiary yet.
Yeah, I have been increasingly aware of myself. Writing lyrics takes me a long time. I spent an ungodly amount of time working on the lyrics to this album. That doesn't necessarily commensurate with quality of course, but I just like doing that.
I'm sure you've interviewed artists who will say they started writing when they got to the studio. Dude, that is my nightmare. Doing the lyrics last minute like that is legitimately my nightmare. It's a process for me, it really is. The reason I mention that as a backstory is that I'm becoming increasingly aware about how I'm writing at myself in a lot of ways. It's sort of a trope to say it's a cathartic experience and blah, blah, blah, but it kind of is. I realized I can't control the way it's taken externally.
With some of the songs, I don't think I realized how much I needed to put it out there. They were difficult for me, but I was very satisfied that I was able to get pen to paper and convey what I was trying to say. Everyone's always in their own head and thinking of things to put to prose, as you eloquently said. It's not easy. A lot of this was just self reflection and writing at myself, which ultimately was something that I was really satisfied with. I've gotten wiser as I've gotten older and I just have to continue to trust myself to work in that way.
Change The Way You Think About Pain is available now via Closed Casket Activities.