Coalesce: A Tale Of Two Ropes
This story shouldn't be as complicated as it is, but here goes. There are two versions of Coalesce's influential 1997 debut album Give Them Rope, which helped teach mosh kids that there's more to hardcore than the 4/4-time rush 'n' bash. Now, fans can hear both on an upcoming reissue, which combines both versions on two discs (or two LPs).
Along with key records by Dillinger Escape Plan and Botch, Give Them Rope is an underground milestone that helped pioneer what was soon called "metalcore." At the risk of sounding too reductive — too late! — metalcore was the natural progression where extreme metal and hardcore met, but with spiraling time signatures that somehow felt more aggressive. Yet Coalesce was always a bit more gnarled than its peers, like a thick vine choking the ancient grooves of a red oak tree.
That said, the original Give Them Rope was a rush job that suffered from delayed promotion. Sometimes, when you look back on a piece of work, you're tempted to ask, "What if?" — and that can get artists into trouble. (Just ask George Lucas.) Remixed from 2002 to 2004, Give Them Rope She Said 2.0 added elements and took others away, but, in my opinion, sounded better on the whole. Those twisted and gnarled grooves practically strangle you on 2.0's mix, but there are always diehards who prefer the original, no matter how muddy the sound.
With this reissue, there is one caveat: The original masters for the '97 version never existed. After hilariously being put on hold to the sounds of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," I got Coalesce vocalist Sean Ingram on the phone at his day job, Blue Collar Distro, which does merchandise retailing for many metal and hardcore bands. We straightened out what, exactly, is on this two-disc reissue and talked about how sentiment colors a relationship with a record. Plus, Ingram confirms that Coalesce is working on a follow-up to 2009's excellent Ox.
NPR: I have to admit that I'm a little confused by the two different versions of Give Them Rope here and where they come from. What exactly is this reissue?
SI: Okay, here it is in a nutshell. This record is the band's favorite full-length — our first full-length — but it's also the biggest bag of hurt in the band's catalog, and here's why: Everything has always gone wrong with the record. It was originally put out in '97 — recorded in '96, released in '97 — it took a super-long time to come out. We rushed the artwork and we rushed the mastering. It finally came out, sold through, went out of press. We never looked at it again; it just stayed out of press.
I had no idea it was that big of a deal to a lot of people; I do now, you know?
In 2002, we had the idea to completely remix it and remaster it, and there were a lot of changes to the record, and that came out in 2004. And then that sold through and was never re-pressed. And then there was the whole debate with our fans, saying, "No, the '97 version is better than the 2004 version," but a lot of people heard the 2004 version first and that was their favorite, and so on and so forth. So when we're putting it together — now that we finally have a label that will keep it in press for posterity — we said, "Well, we don't want to take anything away from anyone else," so we just included both of them on there.
Now, the kicker is that the 1997 version... We had no masters. They didn't exist. We didn't have anything. All I had for the 1997 record was just the original DAT tapes that were literally in my basement that I found when I was moving. So what we ended up doing is just having it mastered, because that's all we had — I mean, we had to master it for the recording. So that's what that version is: It's the 1997 mix, but it was recently re-mastered — or I shouldn't say it was re-mastered. See, that's where it's confusing. It is re-mastered if you look at it from 1997, but it's basically just mastered off of the original DAT tapes, basically, because we didn't have the 1997 original version in existence.
NPR: So the '97 recording has been re-mastered to sound like '97?
SI: [Laughs.] Nope. Sorry, man! I think the mastering is what's confusing the whole thing, because it's just mastered — that's not the highlight of the record so much as just having the original mix. [For the 2004 remix], we chopped songs, we added different parts in, we altered vocals. We didn't think anything was ever going to happen again with the band at that time, so basically what it involved was me and [producer] Ed Rose having fun in the studio for a week. I mean, that's all it was, was just revisiting it and having fun with it. So that's what that is. So disc one is the 1996 mix and disc two is the 2004 mix.
NPR: All right, I think that's clear now.
SI: And, you know, I didn't see any other way to really do it on this, you know what I mean? What if I come up with a third version? I'm trying to un-Lucas-ify this thing as much as possible and just offer what people remember from the '90s, and offer what people remember from the 2000s, and not add any new elements to it, really.
NPR: When I was visiting home one weekend during college some years ago, I had then recently bought a copy of John Lennon's Imagine at a used CD store. I put it on the big stereo in my parents' house. My mom was listening while she was cooking in the kitchen and kept saying, "Where's the guitar here?" or "Where's the drum kick there?" because it was definitely a record that she grew up with. I had unknowingly purchased a remix of the album. Do you fear people missing a moment or an atmosphere from one mix to the other? Do fans give you a hard time because of that?
SI: Yes, absolutely. I don't like the way that the choices I've made with Give Them Rope are being responded to, absolutely. This is the only record we've ever remixed or done anything like that. I had no idea it was that big of a deal to a lot of people; I do now, you know?
And it's funny, too, because it doesn't have a lot to do with what's better or worse — I think it's just what people are familiar with. When we were doing the Ox record, the guys were giving me the rough mixes, and there were mess-ups in that. [But] when I got the final takes that I was actually putting my vocals to and I was going over and learning my vocal, how fast my vocal patterns were going to be, you know, where I'm going to put things — I was missing those things, because the first time I was introduced to the song, it was [guitarist] Jes [Steineger] screwing this part up, or [drummer] Nate [Richardson] missing this beat, or whatever. So when I had the thing pristine and perfect, it was lacking a lot of the sentiment, I guess. I'm assuming that with a lot of people, when they first hear a record, that record becomes theirs; they digest it, they know every in and they know every out, it's like a relationship to them. And then when someone comes through and says, "Oh, no no no, that wasn't good enough, this is actually better," and then changes it... I can see why people get pissed off. That's probably the best way I would explain what I've learned from this process with Give Them Rope.
NPR: I was a little late to 2009's Ox, your first record after a long break. Instead of it feeling like a re-visitation of Coalesce, it was Coalesce reinvigorated, still claustrophobic and menacing, but with more mature textures. It makes me want more of that. What is the current status of Coalesce, and can we expect more material?
SI: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We're just grown men, is the problem. [Laughs.] We're businessmen, we're students, we're managers — these are all things that take up our time, obviously, you know? These are our lives. Coalesce is the most amazing part-time creative outlet in the entire world. It's amazing, because we have been able to build a following to where we can be able to go out every two years, or on the weekends, or whatever, that our other obligations allow us time for, and I just think we're really lucky.
So what we are doing now is that we're finishing — I think Jes is finishing his school, and then I think it's time we're going to start writing again. We've already been fleshing out ideas about which direction we're going to go lyrically, visually and even sonically, like how we're going to record it, because the way Ox was recorded and all of our other previous records were recorded might not be a possibility with the way record sales are now. Putting $20,000 into a record isn't really good business at this point in time. [Laughs.] So it's one of those things where little kids don't want to buy records; how are we still going to be able to do this and sound like how we want? So we're making those decisions now, too, and how we're going to approach it. Definitely, something is coming down the pipeline from Coalesce, for sure.
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