It hasn’t been an easy ride for Santa Cruz’s Time Spent Driving. Having formed initially in 1999, the band’s first iteration was halted in 2003, before a line-up change and first reformation in 2005. A second split followed a couple of years later before the band finally got back together for this run in 2012. During their periods of activity, the five-piece emo band – who draw heavily on the classic Midwest Sound – have put out a couple of full-lengths and an EP. However, their most famous piece of work is arguably the song ‘Lowlight’, which appeared on chapter 7 of Deep Elm’s hugely influential ‘Emo Diaries’ series.
Now, the band is back with a breath-taking new full-length, the ambitious and striking ‘Passed & Presence’. Already Heard put some questions to guitarist and singer Jon Cattivera to get his views on their new opus, the emo revivial and playing the classic Midwest sound when you’re out on a wing in California…
AH: ‘Passed & Presence’ is your first album in 8 years – so why the break, what have you been up to in that time and what bought you back together?
Jon: Well, most have us have been plenty busy! Between all of the members, there have been 5 kids, 3 marriages, 4 mortgages, 2 businesses and a good amount of music in between! I personally was playing guitar in a punk/hardcore band called Crucial Unicorn which was a lot of fun and kept me going. I think that was from about 2006-2009 and we released one full length called “Don’t Kid Yourself Kid". I also played in a band called Gentlemen of Japan from 2009-2011 and we released a full length called “Versus Utah.” In 2011 one of my old bands, Fury 66 (I played with them from about 95-97 I believe) did a reunion show as well. So I’ve been playing music in one form or another the whole time. I also started a web design studio in 2003 so I’ve had my hands full.
AH: Even though you guys hail from California, you have very much a classic Midwestern emo style sound – when you started out was that vastly different to bands in your local scene and where did you fit in?
Jon: Yes, definitely. There were really no bands that I know of doing what we were doing in our town. Yaphet Kotto were from here, and were friends of ours but they were more of a hardcore/screamo type band. There were a few others in that vein as well but nothing I’d consider too similar to us. It’s a small beach/skate/surf town with a fair amount of hippies, so at the time, it was mostly punk and a lot of reggae/hippie music I’d say.
For us, what we were doing was a natural extension of punk and hardcore, but I do think it caught people familiar with our previous projects off guard. There were some other bands in Northern California like Knapsack, Far and Crumb who came before us, but it’s a big place and it’s not like those bands were around all the time. We were however fortunate enough though to have some cool smaller clubs and house shows in town where a lot of bands came through…. Kerosene 454, Get Up Kids, Bluetip, Elliott, Hot Water Music, etc.
AH: From what I’ve seen, the response to ‘Passed & Presence’ has been hugely positive so far, have you been surprised at how good the response has been, but also how much attention it has received? What were your expectations when you were making the record?
Jon: We finished recording it about a year ago now, so needless to say we’re excited to finally be getting it out there. We have some dedicated fans who we wanted to make sure got their hands on it, but we had absolutely no illusions of grandeur. Sure, we want it to be heard by as many people as possible, but the most important thing to us was going in and doing something we’re proud of. I don’t expect everyone to like everything about it, but I do hope they give it a fair shake. As far as response and exposure, we owe a lot to Cardigan Records—they’re doing a great job so far and it’s a super huge help to have them on our side.
AH: Do you think the emo revival has meant there’s been a bit more attention on the bands reforming from the late 90s/early 00s? Like people have rediscovered that ‘classic’ sound and found it wasn’t all pop-punk and guyliner?
Jon: Yes I’d say I do. Us reforming had nothing to do with the emo revival, because in my estimation we weren’t well known enough for it to benefit us in any large sense. Also I wasn’t even aware of that term until after we had gotten things back going again, and I’ve been playing in bands pretty much the entire time since we originally became inactive.
At the same time, it definitely can’t hurt that there’s a renewed interest in this kind of music, and I think for those that were there at the time, there was definitely something special about the earlier bands, before it really turned into something else that burned everyone out on it.
AH: How did you deal with it when the labels came circling for the next emo breakout band? My view is a lot of the good bands from that era didn’t write the 3-minute pop-punk songs labels were after – but did that make things difficult?
Jon: I don’t think any band is going to be bummed when someone wants to help get their music out there. I don’t know if we ever fit in too great with what labels were looking for. When we started the band it took us a while to get going full-on, and we did get some interest, but it was always at the wrong time. We were actually approached by several major labels—but nothing ever came of it. We probably just weren’t what they were looking for overall.
AH: Are there any particular themes running through ‘Passed & Presence’?
Jon: The idea behind the title is that the writing for the material that came to be this record was much more spread out, so I would say it covers many more themes than some of our past releases, which were written in a shorter time frame.
In some ways I think it’s meant to bridge the gap from where we’ve been and where we’re going. One of the songs I’ve had kicking around since before our first full-length, but we just never got around to finishing and recording it. 3 or 4 others were originally conceived during our inactive periods, and about half of them are more or less brand new.
To me it’s a dark record, coming from a dark place that I’ve been clawing my way out of. Overall I’d consider myself a very optimistic, positive and motivated person, but when depression, anxiety and helplessness take ahold, and you no longer feel like the person you once were, that can be a challenge to come away from. I think there’s a lot of that in here, and while I wouldn’t necessarily pinpoint that as the theme, it’s probably the main one if I had to take a step back from it.
AH: There’s a lyric on ‘Blame the Valley’ that really struck me – that about blaming religion, which is a really pertinent and powerful message considering the state of global politics – do you see it as important to use music as a platform to educate and inform – or is that reading too much into it?
Jon: I’d say that’s reading too much into it. That line is about something very specific in my own life, and has no global message outside of that. There are a lot of problems with religion, especially certain ones, but I don’t think it’s my place to tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do. I’ve become more interested in politics over the years, but this isn’t a political band and I don’t think it will ever be one!
AH: You guys are busy with other bands – or have been busy with other bands – so how do you find time to do Time Spent Driving?
Jon: This is really our only project right now. I might play one show a year with Crucial Unicorn, but otherwise, this is what we’re doing and what we plan to do. It’s not other musical projects that take up our time, it’s our families, kids, jobs, businesses and life. We’re doing what we can, when we can, and the main thing is we want to try and keep writing, recording and playing music.
AH: How did you guys hook up with Cardigan Records?
Jon: Shane the owner is an old fan of the band, and he reached out to us to see what we were up to in regards to releasing the new record and we got to talking. We had a few conversations and I got a really good feeling about working with them. It’s been great so far and we’re glad it worked out.
AH: What’s the plans now – will you do much touring or is it going to be all low key?
Jon: If I could drop everything and go on tour for 3 months straight—I would. I love being out on the road playing music and hanging out with my friends, but unfortunately that’s just not the reality that myself and the other guys live in. We also did all of that, and it contributed to the break up in a big way.
Now we’re more about longevity—writing, recording and playing when we can, without burning ourselves out with 10 hour drives. We want to get out and do some shows, some extended weekends, and maybe a week stint here or there, but we don’t have anything concrete planned yet. We’ll see what comes up and what happens.
‘Passed & Presence’ by Time Spent Driving is out now on Cardigan Records.
Words by Rob Mair (@BobNightMair)