Q&A: The Casket Lottery’s unsung reunion yields louder, denser indie-rock gem

The Casket Lottery: Real FearThe Casket Lottery: Real Fear (No Sleep, 11/6/12)

“In the Branches”

The Casket Lottery: “In the Branches”

Following a four-year hiatus from 2006–2010, Kansas City’s The Casket Lottery was reanimated by front-man Nathan Ellis and expanded from its power-trio core to a quintet. The two new members gave the melodic post-hardcore band an even greater musical arsenal, as shown on Real Fear — its first studio LP in 10 years — which continues its legacy as one of the most underrated groups in “indie music.”

Sharing time in hardcore powerhouse Coalesce with drummer Nathan Richardson, Ellis carries over bits of his other band’s fury and anger on Real Fear (albeit in accessible, digestible forms). He recently spoke with ALARM about getting the band back together, adding keyboards, and finding things to be mad about.

The Casket Lottery went on hiatus in 2006. Why are you a band again with five people instead of three?

A big factor in getting back together with the guys and playing some shows was that I was not interested in playing a bunch of old songs. Some of those songs I wrote 15 years ago. I’m nowhere near the same place I was then.

Brent Windler, the guy who’s playing [second] guitar and doing some backup vocals now, he was on one of our last tours. He played guitar on four or five songs to help us out on some stuff that I overextended myself on! I knew if we were going to do stuff, I wanted to bring him in the fold full time. When we started writing, [bassist] Stacy [Hilt] was talking about his friend Nick Siegel, who is playing keyboards with us now. I’ve always been a fan of synths and simple songwriting with layers. It was one of those things where after we practiced once [with him], I thought, “This is going to be awesome.” It really opened up, musically, what I wanted to do with the new record.

With two extra people in the mix and so much time passing, what’s different about the songwriting process?

Not much! There’s never been a set system for us. I found old four-track tapes recently, and I listened to one. There were songs on there we released as The Casket Lottery in their first stage. I never realized, “I wrote that song, front to back!” I don’t know those songs. I can’t listen to a record and think, “I wrote eight of those songs in my bedroom.” I don’t remember. [The songs] just got there. It was the same with the new record. I brought a lot of ideas to the table, but some songs we just started playing and it changed over time.

I will say that that part, starting with one random idea and moving forward and expanding it, is way more fun with five people than with three! It can just take off in so many more directions, and it did.

We recorded the record in two separate chunks. I’m glad we did that, because one of the stronger songs from the first session was “The Door.” After we recorded that one, I talked to the guys about how I wanted the record to move in that direction. There’s a seven-inch out with “The Door” as the A-side — I think it’s a good lead for what the record sounds like — and the B-side is a song from that session where I said, “Okay, I don’t want the record to sound like this.” That song was really the only “poppy” song we recorded.

You guys were never super poppy to begin with!

[Laughs] No. It had a lot more to do with where I was in my mind for writing the record. I was not motivated by anything pleasant or happy-sounding. As a five-piece, we were really able to expand on that. Life gets very heavy sometimes. The motivation behind Survival is for Cowards was that I had just had my first daughter and I was realizing how really fucked up the world is.

My biggest concern when I started writing [Real Fear] was, “How am I going to yell about a bunch of stuff when I’m happily married and have two awesome kids? What am I so mad about?” I just had to look around a little. I read a news story, and that was the first seed. It was a healthy reminder that there was plenty to be loud about.

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