Jeremy Bolm knows something about getting kicked while you're down. The vocalist of Los Angeles post-hardcore band Touche Amore spent 2015 grieving his mother's death after a battle with cancer. And in the process, a good friend of his also died. By the end of the year, as if the grief he was holding onto wasn't enough, both his cat and his dog passed away, capping a tragic year with more loss.
Not one to let a bad year get him down, Bolm was optimistic for the future at the beginning of 2016. And 10 days in, he wrecked his car.
"When I got in that accident...I thought, hey it's a new year and things will turn around," he says in a phone interview from his home in L.A. "But that proved me wrong 100 percent. It was like, 'When is this gonna let up? How does all this bad shit keep happening?' And then the new year came up, like OK fresh start. It was January 10 and I got in that car accident, and it was like, 'Fuck.' At this point, it was almost like comedy."
Bolm directly references the crash in "Displacement," the second song on the band's new album Stage Four, a record that directly deals with and documents the process of grieving after the loss of his mother. In the second verse of the song, Bolm yells, "Last week I crashed my car and walked away unscathed—maybe that was you, asking me to keep my faith," referencing just one of many autobiographical moments in a particularly hard year. Another is "Palm Dreams," which turns one of the most anguished moments—a harmonized refrain of "On my own!"—into one of its catchiest.
Along with guitarists Nick Steinhardt and Clayton Stevens, bassist Tyler Kirby and drummer Elliot Babin, Bolm guides a set of songs that are some of Touche Amore's most intimate and emotionally honest. Not that Touche Amore ever held back before; the emotionally driven narratives of past songs have also been inspired by personal events. Yet this one cuts deeper.
For Bolm, putting his thoughts into the lyrics was a way of coping with loss, though he admits he was hesitant to get started in channeling those feelings.
"I didn't want to write lyrics until we had a good amount of music written," he says. I didn't want to, I guess, open the floodgates of feeling. And if I started going down that path, I wanted to make sure I had a lot of material to go to. When you have such a traumatic thing happen in your life, you're filled to the brim with feelings and different thoughts. So when it came time to sit down and write a song, I can think of all these things I was going through. Like I can write about the night I learned it happened. Or cleaning my mom's house and came across some of her personal things that I had no idea what the backstory was.
"It doesn't make it any easier but that's how I dealt with handling it," he adds.
On Stage Four, out in September via Epitaph Records, catharsis and emotional exorcism comes in a wider variety of forms and styles. Compared to the visceral attack of the group's previous album (2013's Is Survived By), Stage Four is a more expansive work that finds the band challenging themselves in ways they haven't before. Here they embrace more traditionally pretty sounds like those on "Rapture." There's an epic rise and climax in closing standout "Skyscraper," which finds Bolm singing melodically rather than belting out his signature scream, as does "Water Damage," a melancholy number more reminiscent of The Cure than At the Drive-In or The Blood Brothers.
There are also still 90-second bruisers like "Eight Seconds," which rip and roar just as hard as any of the band's harshest songs of before. Yet Bolm says the subject matter of the album necessitated a change in musical tone as well.
"As bands grow, especially for bands that play aggressive music, you're most likely relatively young," he says. "You're full of angst and you want to write the most aggressive music as possible. Punk and hardcore bands also rarely last more than three years, so if you get over that hump and you grow as a person, you grow up or whatever, you get into other kinds of music, or your influences start to show a little more. I feel like when it came to songs that had more singing elements...if a song like that was written in the past I'd be like 'What do you expect me to do over that?' I've always toyed with the idea of singing here and there, and if there was ever a record to do that it'd be this one."
Stage Four presents an affecting stage in Touche Amore's evolution, and one that brings about an even more personal level of catharsis. Yet even with old songs, Bolm says, that feeling sometimes never goes away. And that's thanks in large part to their audience.
"I've sung certain songs so many times that I've gotten over certain things," he says. "But it could be something as simple as looking at someone in the crowd who's maybe singing those songs back, and I see their face, and I can tell that maybe something I've experienced is what theyíve gone through. That can reignite everything."
Touche Amore plays August 8 at Che Cafe