The Silent Comedy Talk about their new album Enemies Multiply, their dark worldview and plans for the future
For brothers Joshua and Jeremiah Zimmerman, life started out unconventionally, and carried them on a journey across the globe that shaped a worldview they describe as darker and more introspective than their peers’.
In the five years that have followed the release of their last EP, Friends Divide, their perspective has shifted and sharpened, dialing in on injustice, societal unrest, and disharmony in the world around them and amalgamating in a brutally honest, bruising project that almost got shelved forever with Enemies Multiply.
Rock and Roll Globe sat down with Joshua Zimmerman to talk evolution as artists, inequality in the world around them, rock and roll’s legacy of protest, and moving forward in uncertainty.
It’s been five years since the release of your last EP, Friends Divide. Why did you decide to release another record now? How has the world we live in today shaped that decision, the songs you wrote, and the message you hope to share?
My brother and I have always had a relatively dark view of the world, and the state of humanity. When we returned to Orange County, CA after traveling the world and living in Southeast Asia as teenagers, we saw a disturbing amount of ignorance and denial in our friends back home. To some extent, our songwriting has always been a reaction to that feeling. Writing songs is our attempt to make people think about the darker side of humanity, and confront subjects that they would rather not think about. At this point in American history, the average person is being forced to reckon with the flaws of our political system, and the culture at large. It feels like the American audience is a little more open and receptive to this collection of songs than they would have been 10 years ago.
How have you changed as songwriters and performers in that time?
The songs that make up the new album, Enemies Multiply, are really a continuation of our evolving songwriting that the last EP gave a taste of. Over the years, our songwriting has become less quirky, and more chorus driven. We are also becoming more honest in our writing. We used to write a lot of songs in a very removed, third-person type voice about fictional characters. This album comes more directly from Jeremiah and me personally.
Enemies Multiply shares stories of anger, betrayal, injustice, and societal inequality before closing with “Peace of Mind.” How do you think the record’s journey through dark, difficult times to a place of hope and unity can be translated to our lives?
That narrative arc feels very familiar to us, and I think it will resonate with a lot of other people as well. Life isn’t a static state of either happiness or struggle. We are all constantly dealing with peaks and valleys in our lives, and the record tracks a certain cycle of that. From personal experience, I have also experienced some of the most transformative moments of hope in the middle of my darkest days, and there is something beautiful about that concept. These songs were written from that place, and they are very therapeutic for us to listen to and perform. I hope they will serve that function for others as well.
We hear that “entertainers should keep their mouths shut and just sing/play/act” all the time. What place do you think artists have to speak out against political and societal injustice? Why do you think music is so impactful when it comes to combatting negativity and causing real change?
We do hear that perspective from different outlets, and I think it is a flawed premise. I don’t see why the perspective of an artist is any less valuable than a pundit on cable news. Luckily, music has a deep legacy of protest and controversy that has helped shape the course of modern history. It has an incredible power to get past peoples’ defenses and meet them in an emotional place that is very different than a debate. Music is an art form that affects me more deeply than most others, and it is an honor to be able to express our viewpoints through it.
As musicians and writers, you’ve gone through various genres: punk, Americana, folk, blues, rock. Enemies Multiply is an amalgamation of all of that and more. How did you continue to evolve and develop your sound over the years? Did the gap between Friends Divide and Enemies Multiply offer you more space and freedom to explore your sound?
Our evolution in sound has been very organic. We didn’t set out to start at a very folky, acoustic place and end up as a bombastic rock band. It just happened over time. The biggest factor that drove the change was our expanded experiences. Touring more, being exposed to more bands, larger rooms, different parts of the world…all of that had an effect on the sound. We started out playing coffee shops, sitting on chairs with acoustic instruments, and ended up in large theaters and arenas, so the same approach doesn’t really translate across those different spaces.
When you’re in a place of despair in your personal lives, who do you listen to for inspiration or hope? Where do you draw influence for your own music?
That answer varies quite a bit between the four of us that make up the core of the band. I think we all have our different go-to songs and artists. When it comes to new music, I have been really enjoying Jason Isbell’s solo records. I really like that he comes from a place (geographically) that is easy for those of us on the coasts to write off or make assumptions about, but he is presenting a much more complex viewpoint of the internal struggle that comes with that heritage. As far as sound inspirations go, we are all over the map on that. The list is too long.
What’s the writing process like when you’re in a band with your brother? How collaborative is the process?
In the past, we usually worked on songs individually. We would get them to a certain point on our own, then share them with the other guy, and polish them up a bit before bringing them to the whole band. On this album, we were much more involved. This was the first time the two of us worked on lyrics collaboratively through whole songs. It was a much different process, and it was really special for that reason. I think that has something to do with how honest and personal this album is.
What was your proudest moment while writing this record? Did you ever feel like it would never see the light of day?
It was very close to never being released. I moved to New York several years ago, and we have all gotten very busy with other aspects of life. We were on the verge of abandoning the idea of putting it out, and then the 2016 election happened. In the fallout from that, I started going back and listening to these songs to derive some comfort from them. It made me think that it was a mistake to not allow other people to connect with them in that way. No matter what happens with the album, we just want the material to affect people. The thing we are proudest of is just how raw and honest the songs are. It feels like baring our souls in a way that is difficult to do.
Were there any standout moments while writing and recording the record?
The tracking of this album took place in sections over a long period of time, so there was a lot that transpired. One of ht biggest standouts from the process was working with a production team that were true collaborators. Our producer, Chris “Frenchie” Smith, and engineer Sean Rolie really drew out a lot of creativity and exploration from us. We have never had that type of relationship with a production team, and we are really proud of the sonic results from that. They also put up with a lot of the chaos that was taking place in our lives at the time, and I can’t thank them enough for that. It was a really special experience.
What do you hope fans take away from Enemies Multiply?
We hope that fans are affected by it. We hope that it brings people on an emotional journey, and helps them deal with the difficulties of life. That’s what it has done for us, and we want to spread that experience to others. We have had a very incredibly connection with the community of people who enjoy our music over the years. It is very humbling how much our songs have meant to people, and we keep that in mind through the creative process.
If you could give your younger selves any piece of advice, what would it be?
Learn to sing and play instruments, probably. My brother is the musical brains of the band, and I trail much, much farther behind. That makes the creative process tough. I wish I were as prolific as he is, but my limited skills make that difficult.
What’s next for The Silent Comedy?
The honest answer is that we really aren’t sure. We are going to be keeping a very close eye on how this album is received, and what that tells us about people’s desire to see us tour more. It is much harder to get all of our schedules aligned these days, so we’re not sure how much extensive touring will happen, but we are open to it. Getting this collection out is a big step. That will be a sort of weight off our shoulders, and we will see what happens creatively after the dust settles.