Kansas City emo veterans The Casket Lottery are back! On their first new record in eight years, the very aptly titled 'Short Songs for End Times,' the band shows they still have what it takes to bum us out on the long overdue follow-up to 2012's 'Real Fear'. An album that finds singer-guitarist Nathan Ellis, guitarist-vocalist Terrence Vitali, bassist-vocalist Stacy Hilt and drummer Jason Trabue at the top of their game - tight, tough and intense. No small feat more than twenty years after the band's first release. We caught up with Ellis to talk about all things 'Short Songs for End Times, which will be out on Nov 6 via Wiretap Records, Big Scary Monsters and Second Nature Recordings.
PRT: You returned from hiatus in 2012 with ‘Real Fear’ - your first new album since 2003 - and then went quiet again until 2018 when you announced reissues of your first three albums and tour dates. And now you are back again with ‘Short Songs for End Times,’ your first new album in 8 years. Is that a matter of life getting in the way or different priorities?
Nathan: Yeah, it has a lot to do with scheduling. After we finished "Real Fear" and played a handful of shows in support of it, we realized how difficult it was to get everyone involved to commit to band stuff. It was at that point that Nathan "Junior" Richardson came to the realization that he was spread too thin. At that time, he had young kids, was going to school, and was working full time. We were also working as 5 piece, and as you can imagine lining up schedules for 5 people with various commitments was a real challenge. When Run For Cover announced the reissues and we talked about going out in support of them we had a conversation around how to move forward. Junior wasn't really interested and suggested one of his old friends, Jason Trabue for drum duties, and it's been a great fit. Since we started rehearsing for those tours in 2018, we've been on a pretty regular schedule and that lead to the writing and recording of Short Songs for End Times.
PRT: What was it about those shows in 2018 that sparked the new songs?
Nathan: I've never really been a fan of just playing older songs. I enjoy the creative part of being in a band much more than the repetitive parts. As soon as we got a good set feeling solid in 2018, I was ready to move on. I knew we had a solid line up to move forward with and started writing as soon as we got home from our last tour of 2018.
PRT: It seems like a comfortable way of doing things. Only record or play shows when you really feel like it. Or is it a challenge to get things going again?
Nathan: It is hard to get everyone back into a schedule again after taking multiple years off, but I can't imagine not taking breaks. I'm a pain in the ass and I know that the breaks are for the other guys more than for me.
PRT: ‘Short Songs for End Times’ is the first album you recorded without Ed Rose. What was it like to go through the process without the guidance of someone who knows your band as well as he does?
Nathan: Initially, I was quite nervous about it. I was able to convince Ed to be "involved" and he came out on day 1 and helped set up drum sounds, showed up at various points in the session just to mess around with keyboards, harmonies, extra sound ideas, and then in the end, he took all the tracks and did the mixing for us. We were really lucky to have met Josh Barber, who was the producer on this album with us. He was a pleasure to work with, and we're really pleased with how everything worked out. Plus, he's an all around good guy and knows of all the good taco spots in town.
PRT: You have described the album as the ‘soundtrack to a dark period in American history’ and the songs certainly reflect that. But it doesn’t feel like a hopeless album. What is it that has kept you going the last couple of months?
Nathan: This record was actually completely written before any coronavirus concerns. I've personally struggled with what has been happening all around me for the last 4 years, and this pandemic just adds to that. There are quite a few lyrical moments in the record that refer to those struggles and there are a few moments that are hopeful for a positive change. What else could I say?
PRT: The video for ‘More Blood’ is set to images of the 1922 movie ‘Nosferatu’. Why that movie?
Nathan: Public Domain! Also, it was really fitting, metaphorically.
PRT: Do you ever see yourself taking something like that to the next level and write the soundtrack to a movie like Mogwai, Arcade Fire and Explosions in the Sky?
Nathan: I would love that - I'm a huge fan of soundtracks and scores, and find myself listening to them more than anything else lately. Specifically John Carpenter, Wojciech Kilar, Johann Johannsson, Ramin Djawadi, Wojciech Golczewski, Brian Eno, and Mogwai.
PRT: You wrote ‘More Blood’ in a matter of minutes. I recently got a chance to talk to Bob Mould who said he felt the memorable songs write themselves in about ten minutes. Is that something you agree with? Or is there something to be said as well for chipping away at a song for a long time until it all clicks together?
Nathan: Most songs are somewhere in between. I think that when a song shows up that quickly and that complete, it is just a gift. On the flipside, I've had the experience of working on a song, or an idea, for years that is equally rewarding. The chorus riff in the first song on Short Songs for End Times has just been a guitar part that I've been using as a soundcheck riff for over a decade and finally decided to put it to use.
PRT: I can imagine it is frustrating that you wrote an album, recorded it and now things are leading up to its release. But then what? Because you are not able to tour right now. It seems kind of anti-climactic I guess?
Nathan: Yes. For a band that has not been super active, it might seem less frustrating, but a lot of this record was written to be played live and loud. We had a great time on the 2018 tours and we were really looking forward to hitting the road and promoting this record with a bunch of loud and rowdy shows in smaller, overcrowded rooms. I didn't even know they were endangered! Hindsight...
PRT: Are you already planning shows for 2021 with your fingers crossed?
Nathan: Not really. We haven't had any conversations about it yet. As soon as it seems like a good idea, we will be excited to hit it, but that seems a little premature right now. A big goal for this record would be to tour Europe/UK though. That is something that The Casket Lottery hasn't done yet, and it is long overdue.