Aside: I will avoid using the word “screamo” throughout this piece because, truthfully, it does no justice to the subject matter.
The miserable realization that I should give up my search for anything closely approximating the feeling I got from hardcore punk bands of the 90’s and early 2000’s was disillusioning. Everything worthwhile seems to have a brief heyday and I suppose that’s what makes it so special.
But the fact of the matter is, in 2018, I didn’t have to look much further than where the seeds were planted, or at least emotionally cultivated, by bands such as Pageninetynine, City of Caterpillar and Majority Rule. In the town of Fredericksburg, Va., positioned on I-95 almost halfway between Washington and Richmond, a group of young men calling themselves Infant Island are making some of the most atmospheric, gut-wrenchingly beautiful melodic hardcore I’ve ever laid ears upon.
Their debut full-length was released last year and I am in no way embellishing when I say that once I put it on the turntable, it stays there for a few days.
It’s hard to look at this record as a series of songs. With most albums I’m used to having my “favorite” cuts. Perish the thought of having to skip anything on this offering. Let it play through. It makes the ability to jump around, enjoying only the prime bits, obsolete. They have hit on a formula that has sort of somehow refined that of City of Caterpillar into a more desperate, lo-fi, bleak experience without being cheesy at all. The darkness here isn’t your typical household brand of gloom. It’s a thing peppered with (and derived from) elegance, and the light at the end doesn’t seem totally unattainable. See, here the well-crafted, quiet, ambient post-rock meditations are as lovely and devastating as anything of their kind.
A quick instance; the statuesque riff at the beginning of the epic final track, “Further”, builds slowly in volume and intensity as the drums and bass join in before it all fizzles out. This is where the last aggressive gasp of this record shines through in all it’s melancholy glory. You believe the record is over when what appears to be an analog-tape version of the original riff begins. This is an afterthought on more patrician instrumentation. The commitment feels uncertain but comes together in a really phenomenal way.
A hushed, peaceful death for this stunning record.
If you’ll pardon one final sentiment, I need to discuss the literary quality of the lyrics. Case in point; Here are the words shrieked by front-man Daniel Kost in “Replenish”:
Sucked into this vortex
My own failed sight
With a still herd and cowardice
All hearts teeth stitched
Into pale sins,
Right where fade
All worn thin
Sucked into vortexes of fear
Hoping the darkness consumes
Existence to which we are
Curses on all Souls.”
With that, I can only say it is very important that you listen to this record.
I’m thrilled to have gotten the opportunity to ask Infant Island (Daniel-Vox, Alex-Guitar/Vox, Kyle-Bass, Austin-Drums) some questions. Here goes;
How old are you guys?
What does your typical songwriting process look like?
Alexander: As far as the music side of things go, I usually bring an idea to the group that we then flesh out as together. A lot of times, I’ll bring something to Kyle to refine first – we’ll tab out the guitar and bass together, and then we bring it to Austin at practice to write drums for and finish off. That way it goes through at least a couple quality control filters before we give it to Daniel for vocal treatment.
Daniel: I usually just ponder what I am dealing with on an emotional and introspective level, in life, and I brainstorm ideas on how I want to communicate frustrations, transparency, and lyricism once I hear the demos of what everyone’s been working on.Then I just kind of work and twist and bite and gnaw until I feel somewhat satisfied in expressing what I’ve been bottling up consciously or subconsciously.
Austin: Hmm. For drums I tend to approach it from an angle that can glue the components that Alex brings to practice in a way that makes everything just make sense, at least that is usually my goal. Sometimes there’s something in the song that needs to be said through the violent nature of heavy drums and a drum part turns into therapy. Unlike any other projects I’ve been a part of, I find so many moments in this band where I put myself completely into the performance and let my physical limits be exposed. To me, that vulnerability is a big part of the genre and the songwriting process.
Kyle: Usually Alex will send me an iphone recording of an idea to see what I think of it. We’ll usually then get together to flesh out the idea, then bring it to Austin to help add nice touches. Austin is a composer, so he gives us great music theory insight on whatever we’re working on. When writing bass for our songs, I feel like Alex and I kind of reverse roles in a way. My bass lines usually drive the song more so than the guitar. His guitar riffs are so drenched in modulation, without me, the melody can get lost.
Who are your musical influences? On your sound or otherwise?
Alexander: Definitely, maybe in a weird way, indie rock: Carissa’s Wierd, Cloakroom, Slowdive, Horse Jumper of Love, early Death Cab for Cutie, Low, etc – that’s the kinda stuff I got into music through, before I got into punk of any variety at all really. I feel like those kinds of bands really affected the way I think about music compositionally, like how to piece together chords and songs. Tonally I really think bands like This Will Destroy You, Majority Rule, and Sumac have left a big mark on me, particularly the way they transfer their recorded songs to a live context. At the end of the day though, what happens happens – I’m definitely not thinking “wow, I want this song to sound like (x)” at any point during the writing process.
Daniel: The songwriting process, for me, isn’t particularly influenced by particular artists sonically I guess – although, I do listen to a range of artists who inspire me sonically and content-wise. I usually try and encapsulate an expression of something which feels foreign at first which feels foreign at first, but then grows and nestles and connects with other art. I guess what’s been doing that for me recently has been – I don’t know – Emma Ruth Rundle, Ostraca (of course), Majority Rule, Agnes Obel, Massa Nera, and Tomb Mold. In short, I’ve really been enjoying those artists pretty constantly.
Austin: Y’know that is toUGH. For a lot of the things I’m trying to express in this band I find myself taking a lot of texture based ideas from harsh noise, black metal, and grindcore almost equally; to be specific I guess Wolf Eyes, Lantlos, Cattle Decapitation (and many others). For this band though I think a whole lot about these pieces from the perspective I’ve adopted from adoring a lot of contemporary and avantgarde music. Like I dunno, there is so much heckin depth to the stuff Alex, Kyle, Daniel and Fredericksburg’s subliminal influence on it’s art that I can’t help thinking of it in the same light as contemporary composition (idk, like Penderecki, Whitacre, Saariaho). I try to make some decisions in my contribution to the sound from that perspective. But many times there is no immediate sound influence, often times just a feeling, a memory or pure empathy.
Kyle: I agree with daniel on this. I feel like I listen to a lot of music and try very hard to not pinpoint where something I wrote came from. Some big influences on my bass writing are Fugazi, This Will Destroy You, Cloakroom, and lots of jazz
I’ve noticed I.I. endorsements, of sorts, from some o.g. bands. How does it feel knowing you have sort of a stamp of approval from your forbearers?
Alexander: Very cool. It feels like a culmination of the hard work we all put into this band to be recognized by people we all have looked up to. Having the opportunity to meet those people and work with them has been incredible.
Daniel: It feels pretty weird, to be honest, but I’m very humbled that (first of all) we get any support at all, but also that the oldheads are open minded enough to work with and enjoy taking part in the continuation of “screamo” I guess with younger bands that are inspired by them.
Austin: Honestly fucking awesome, mind blowing, and petrifyingly flattering.
Kyle: It’s very surreal. If younger me could see me know, he’d be so stoked. I literally get to play, record, and interact with my favorite bands.
What do you guys do for fun, besides play music?
Alexander: I’m about to enter my senior year of undergrad at the University of Mary Washington – I’m double majoring in political science and English (with a concentration in creative writing). I’m also the president of my college’s radio station and in the leadership of a couple other campus groups. Outside of school, I book shows in Fredericksburg and Richmond a couple of times a month, I’m on the board of a non-profit called Fredericksburg All Ages which works to bring music and booking knowledge to youth (mostly high schoolers) in the area, I recently started writing for RVA Magazine, and I play a good bit of Fortnite (lol).
Daniel: I’m an amateur disc-golfer! I love playing with my roommate – as well as with fellow richmond screamo legends Thom Carney (60659-c, Majorel, In Wolves’ Clothing, Mothlight, etc.) and Andy Johnson (In Wolves’ Clothing).
Austin: LOL music absorbs pretty much 90% of my attention and fun; but like I also make a lot of coffee, play videos games, play piano, hang with friends and loved ones, eat beans, take walks, think about missed opportunities, and pretty much make more music lololol AND MIKAU.
Kyle: I agree with Austin hehehehe. Music takes up 90% of my time. Outside of Infant Island, I produce hip hop as yajirobe. I also run a recording studio/record label out of my apartment with my friends Diego and Kwame. It’s called Hidden Sound Collective! We just put out our first tape, and we are beyond excited. Please go check it out! Other than that, I play with my dog, skateboard, and play video games.
If you could classify your music, genre-wise, what would it be?
Daniel: I would just say punk.
Alexander: I dunno, I guess we’re a screamo band – I think “chaotic hardcore” sounds cooler though. I think we also have elements of sludge and post-metal though, so I guess that’s a complicating factor.
Austin: ooo wah ah ah ah
Kyle: I bounce between “i play in a punk band” and “i play in a metal band” when talking to my coworkers. Depends on the day. Unless the person I’m talking to has also wasted their entire life listening to WAY too much music, I don’t tend to go deeper than that.
Is the punk scene in Virginia as bustling as it was in the late 90s/early 2000s?
Daniel: Yes, if not more. I think Alex could vouch for this.
Alexander: I actually did a project on this for class recently – I can say for sure that the scene here is booming. For anyone who’s interested, you can check out my visualization of exactly how interconnected the scene is at http://skramz.cursedcontent.com/ ! Some bands to check out from here though are Ostraca, Truman, and
Kyle: Virginia is sick! Fredericksburg kinda sucks, but everywhere else is LiTtTtT
When can we expect another release from I.I.?
Alex: Later this year…
I don’t mind saying, you’re the only newer band I listen to of your style. What is it that gives you guys such an authentic quality?
Daniel: Thanks – that’s really nice gesture. We just try to rock out and be true to ourselves and who we are as individuals. And, to be honest, there are plenty of other bands that are in “screamo” and DIY in general that deserve just as much attention as us, if not more.
Kyle: IDK, maybe because it’s hard to compare us to other bands? Most people I talk to who are fans always mention how they don’t know what to pinpoint us as. I think that goes back to what I was saying about not letting influences show. We really try to mesh all of our favorite music into one.
I’ve seen some live footage on YouTube and it seems very frantic, unpredictable and emotional, at times. The energy is fantastic. How do you guys feel when you’re performing?
Kyle: I feel alive. I’m a very emotional person. The catharsis I feel while performing keeps me going. I feel very exposed during every show. Without sounding corny, it feels very spiritual.
Austin: Y’know I usually just feel really intense. I agree with Kyle in that it’s pretty much a almost spiritual act.
Alexander: Honestly, for me, it kinda takes some effort – I’m a sleepy person so getting into things when playing is sort of like gaining momentum. I feel like I get progressively more “into it” as the set goes on. Sometimes I’ll catch myself zoning out and have to think “whoa you’re on stage screaming into a mic – get your shit together” usually after that I’m good though. I think some of our newer songs being technically challenging to play is a part of that too.
The LP is phenomenal. Was it as much fun to make as it is to listen to? Tell me a bit about the recording process.
Daniel: Recording an album for the first time was a very fun and refreshing experience that I honestly never thought I’d take part in, but at times it can be very draining and emotionally exhausting. At the end though, there are no regrets and I’m very happy to have been able to experience the privilege to record with my friends. Shout out to Thom and the minions.
Alexander: It was our first time actually recording in a studio-like environment, so even though it was just our friend’s house it was a little intimidating. We also all had personal stuff happening at the time which made it a little stressful, BUT it was very fun and so rewarding. It’s been amazing to see people enjoy and resonate with this record which was such a long time in the making.
Kyle: I personally think recording the album was a relief. We had been sitting on those songs for like two years before we finally recorded them. It felt like I could finally shelf those songs and start writing new material with Alex.
Daniel: TOUR MORE. SEE MORE. SHRED MORE.
Austin: TOUR MO SEE MO SHRED MO eat more french fries n grilled cheesen // pet all of the doggos and cattos from tour and honestly just get this friccin album out.
Kyle: I live for touring. I want to go everywhere! Our friends in Massa Nera just toured South East Asia and Japan. I’m so jealous and want to experience that. Alex, book us in Europe or Asia plz
Alexander: We’ve got a tour planned for July, as well as a couple other things coming up – so we have lots of plans which we’ll hopefully be able to elaborate more on soon. Keep yer eyes peeled and ears open!
Where can our readers find your music and merch?
http://infantisland.us/ is where we keep everything updated! Links to everything Infant Island related can be found there.