I’d been hearing good things about the band Sick Feeling for a while now. I’m always a fan of well-done hardcore, and the presence of onetime Ink & Dagger guitarist Don Devore in the lineup didn’t hurt. On a cold night last month, a friend and I ventured out to Baby’s All Right to see the band play a terrific set; on the way home, I ordered their debut, Suburban Myth. Earlier this week, I checked in with vocalist Jesse Miller-Gordon as the band’s van made their way across the Midwest.
Weather aside, how has the tour been going so far?
It’s been great. It’s cool to see people come out even when it’s literally -5 outside.
Any highlights so far?
We’re on the road with Obliterations, and those are some of our best friends. It’s fun to see them rip every night. The local openers are usually pretty good. There’s none that I can pick out as my favorite yet.
How many more weeks are you on the road?
It’s just Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, New York, and Philly. And then we’re going to keep it cool until next month, and next month we’re going to head down south for a little bit.
Is this the first tour on this scale that you’ve done?
We were out on the west coast with United Nations this fall. We’re getting the country covered ten days at a time, I guess.
Seeing bands’ tours arranged around the members’ schedules is something I see more and more of these days.
Yeah. We all have jobs and stuff back home, so…
On the sleeve of Suburban Myth, you have individual pieces of artwork–almost single covers, really–for each of the songs. Where did that idea come from?
That was pretty early on. I wanted to give each song its own picture, so I kind of teamed up with Sean, the guy who did the layout. I did half the photos, he did half the photos. I’m really happy with how that went. I just figured that everything deserves its own little image.
I saw the band play for the first time last month at Baby’s All Right; something I noticed both there and on the record is that you’re very much a hardcore band, but there’s also that wall of sound–almost a drone element with the guitars as well.
That’s Don [Devore]. That guy’s just an amazing guitar player.
I’ve been listening to his stuff since the days of Ink & Dagger, so…
It’s cool to hear him make aggressive music again. It’s even more fun, ‘cause I get to sing with it.
When you first met, were you aware of all of the bands that he’d been in, or did you meet under totally different circumstances?
I was quietly big on a couple of the Ink & Dagger records, that’s for sure. They were always one of those hardcore bands that let me know that it was cool to be a weirdo, and you could sound like whatever and still just, straight-up, be a hardcore band.
When did you first get into hardcore?
I was 13 years old, and I went to Gilman to see a local hardcore band. All Bets Off was opening; I ran into the singer the next day, and he gave me a flyer for my first real hardcore show, and that was the next weekend. I went, and I knocked myself out cold. Everyone took care of me, and I came back every week ever since. And I’m now 27.
And this is the first time you’ve sung in a band, right?
This is the first time I’ve ever been in a band.
You seem very comfortable on stage–was that something that’s been there from the get-go, or has it evolved over time?
At first, I was a little nervous. But I think the stuff that everybody reads is really confident. Usually, I’m the most uncomfortable. I don’t know. It’s just fun. I don’t know why it would be anything but fun. I don’t get what there is to be nervous about; people came to see good music. I want them to have a good time, too.
Where did the idea to call the album Suburban Myth come from?
I’d had that in my notebook for a while, earmarked for a project I cared about. It fit with the theme of the record, as the record gradually became its own weird little entity. I’m not sure you’ll see weird childhood themes on the next record, you know?
You were talking about going to shows at Gilman Street–did you grow up in the suburbs of the Bay Area, or…
No–I grew up in Berkeley. That’s actually the joke of it: I’ve always been obsessed with the suburbs, but I’ve never lived in one once. I was born in New York City and raised in Berkeley. My girlfriend lived in the suburbs in high school, and I was fascinated.
In the song “Liberal Arts,” there’s the line “it’s a dogfight between your bills and self-respect.” That’s a pretty universal concern–where, for you, did it get sorted out?
It’s still sorting itself out; I’m really broke right now. When I wrote that, I was really unhappy at a full-time job in the creative industry. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. I woke up one day and thought, “I made my first annual salary, and I hate myself when I look in the mirror at work.” But I was knocking out that rent!
I can definitely relate.
I mean, half of the record is a New York record.
And the other half is Berkeley?
I was going back and forth between Berkeley and New York the whole time. My dad was really sick, and I was taking care of him and watching over my family and seeing old friends and going back and doing the full New York submersion thing, for about a year and a half.
In addition to music, you also write and do video work–do you feel like those all interact with one another, or do they stay pretty separate?
They’re starting to interact with each other more. Writing’s pretty natural, and it’s something I can do on the road, which is pretty nice. I wrote a piece three days ago and it went up yesterday, and I wrote it all from a mall with wi-fi in London, Ontario.
What was the piece about?
That one was for this site Enormous Eye. It was pretty much a captain’s log of my Saturday, if you want to get a feel for what the trip from Montreal to Toronto was like.
You’ve done some writing for Vice about fashion. Do you find that world to be very different from the music side of things, or have you found more similarities than one might expect?
They’re different, and you navigate them differently. They interact with each other. It’s really funny–the things people in each industry don’t pick up on about each other, about what they do. They’re particular animals. Fashion, I’m more comfortable speaking about it critically. There’s a creative force behind it; they’re making items for sale. There’s a commerce aspect to it along with all the showmanship and craftsmanship.
How did you start writing about fashion?
It kind of happened by accident. I was doing video coverage of Fashion Week for Vice, producing some videos for them, and they were shorthanded on writers. I can write, and I’m at these shows with the editors. I would write notes on my phone; I said, “If you want these, I’ll give you my review.”
Have you started writing songs for the next record?
We have one new song that’s in the set, that’s very firmly in the set. We closed with it ar our record release, and then played it again; I love it. We’ve been writing new material. We might rest ourselves for a few weeks and really, really get down to writing, but who knows. Short answer: yes, and I can’t wait.
How do you go about writing a song?
To me, they pretty much appear fully-formed a lot of the time. These dudes are funky cats; they’re serious musicians. I just appear and say, “Hey, that’s cool! I’ll write some words for that.” Sometimes I’ll ask for a few measures; I’ll chip in like that. My contribution is lyrical and trying to put together visuals.
Do you have a sense of where the new lyrics are going? Will it be a different vein than the record?
I’m still writing them; it’s still my brain and my mouth, so… People might not notice the differences as much as I do. I’m always reticent to put it all the way out there and make things unambiguous. But overall, happier. In a better place. Less death and sadness around these days.
That’s a good thing.
Yeah, man. I just to want feel the sun on my face for a second.
One more question: any good tour reading?
I’m holed up with 2666 in the back of the van now, actually. In between naps, I made it to the second book. Truckin’ along.
Sick Feeling will play St. Vitus this Friday, February 20th.
Photo: Ben Rayner