Interview: DIVIDES

DIVIDES is a post-hardcore outfit formed in Anchorage, Alaska. After releasing one EP and making waves in the local scene, the band uprooted to settle in a new state. Gaining momentum touring and writing, their new album Brokentooth was just released on August 11th.

I recently spoke with guitarist Bryan about moving the band from Alaska to Portland, the new album’s release, future projects of the band, and more.

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DIVIDES is:

CJ Marie: Lead Vocals / Keys
Bryan Calhoon: Lead and Rhythm Guitar
Joe Jackson: Bass / Backup Vocals
Corey Rainey: Drums
Paul Anderson : Guitar / Backup Vocals

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DIVIDES van band photo

How did you guys start playing together?

 Let’s see. I had been in a band up in Alaska for probably five or six years, playing around, doing shows all the time, obviously in Alaska. There’s a fairly limited amount of places you can play and travel because you’re kind of isolated. So, I did that for a long time and that band didn’t really pan out. People had kids, moved away, kind of that whole thing.

I still wanted to do something with music with my life and I reached out to a couple friends and said “Hey, if you know anybody who wants to start a band, wants to do something serious. I got introduced to our singer, CJ, by a mutual friend who said to her,  “Hey, you should talk to this guy Bryan, he wants to do the same thing you do, you should see what happens.” We met, we went for coffee and chatted about our goals of what we want to do with music and they were perfectly in line and we’re like, “Cool. We want to be in a band together, you’re the type of person I want to do this with, now we can find other people.” Just having been in the music scene in Alaska, we eventually found a drummer who I played in another band with briefly that was interested in what we were doing. Then our bass player was a friend of our singer, and he had actually sent a few bass players our way to try out. He came to a practice and was kind of giving us some criticisms on some of the songs – constructive criticisms – and I’m like “why don’t you just be our bass player?” He said “Ah, I’m not that good as a bass player” and we said, “You can learn, but we can’t teach someone to have your insight on songs.” That’s kind of how that started and we just tried to write some tunes and it all just kind of worked out and we made it up there in Alaska for a couple, no I guess not even a couple of years, it was about a year and a half.

Then we just decided either we stay here or we move. I mean, Alaska’s a great scene, but unfortunately it’s not economically feasible to tour from there. So we moved down – and we lost our other guitarist that was a good friend of mine that had joined the band as well. He had decided not to move down. But then we found Paul, our other guitar player. We actually got him through a Craigslist add of all things. We posted up our EP that we had recorded up in Alaska. He was a guitarist, and he was the only one that responded, and it actually worked out perfect because  I don’t think we could have found a better fit. So yeah long story short, that’s kind of how the band formed, and is what it is today.

Did you already have some connections in Portland, or why did you move down there?

I had lived here previously. Earlier on in my twenties, actually right about when I turned 21, a good friend of mine had moved down to Oregon and I decided I wanted to get out of Alaska. I moved down here, I ended up getting a job at this motorcycle dealership I’m currently at, and did that whole thing. I lived down here for a year and got home sick and moved back. And when it came time to move [with the band] I was like, “We should move to a place at least one of us is familiar with and the place has got to not cost us too much to live,” and everyone except our bass player and I had lived [only] in Alaska. Our bass player, he grew up in San Diego, but economically it was just way too expensive to live there for four people that don’t have a job and are just moving. I thought “Well, I can get my old job back in Portland.” I had actually already talked to my boss and he’s like “Hey, if you’re ever back down, you’ve got your old job back.” And I thought, “I used to live there, I already have a job, I know the lay of the land. I guess we might as well go there because we won’t be completely lost.” I had some friends who I knew previously and they let us stay at their house, that kind of thing. It’s like alright well, guess that’s easier than any other option, and hey, it worked out.

Yeah, sounds like things started falling into place. It seems like just looking at your Twitter that you’ve been regularly playing some shows around there?

 Yeah. It was a slow start, I mean everyone moving, and kind of doing the whole, no friends, homesick thing. We actually randomly signed up for a Battle of the Bands as our first actual show and the guy that set that up, we didn’t know at the time, but is a local promoter and he is very into promoting local local all-age shows, and because of signing up for that one battle of the bands, that kind of helped us get out there. Once we got firmly planted and everyone got jobs, everyone was able to get instruments, get our stuff, get a van, we were able to do all these things, just by going out and going to shows and meeting people it was kind of trickle down effect: we got one show and that turned into two, which turned into four, which turned into six, and we were able to start branching out and getting out of Portland. And since, we’ve been all over Washington probably four or five times now.

Right on.

So it’s a bit of a slow process but it’s getting to the point now where every weekend almost we’re shooting a music video, or going out, even if it’s just for one or two shows, in Seattle, or Spokane, or Olympia.

And you guys recently played the Portland date on Warped Tour?

Yeah! Every year Ernie Ball has this online battle of the bands, and you know, like any other band that’s out there in our genre, we want to play Warped Tour. So we signed up for it. Last year we did the same thing and we didn’t get picked and we’re like “Okay, cool, it is what it is.” This year we signed up for it but we’d also actually signed up for the local Battle of the Bands to get into Warped Tour. Ernie Ball had sent us an email like “Hey, we’d like you to play the Portland date.” So we had to drop out of the local Battle of the Bands without telling anyone why, because you know, that would be pretty shitty of us to also still compete in the local battle when we’d already got the spot. And the Ernie Ball stage is a great stage for local level bands to play that also smaller touring acts play as well. Yeah, it was actually a way more fruitful experience than we were expecting it to be, honestly.

I love this band’s story so far, from Craigslist to having to drop out of the Battle of the Bands with that secret.

 Yeah, (laughs) It’s one of those things. I don’t know, none of us have egos so at first it’s like “Oh, they want us to? Okay this is weird.. I guess they like us?” We’re not good at taking adulation I guess.

What are the fans like? Mostly heavy music fans, or Paramore fans that found you?

It’s funny, I’d say it’s a little bit of everything. I say that meaning, for example, we played the Warped Tour date and we’re going to play a local stage and most people, like 99% of people, come to see all the big bands so we’re lucky if we get a few people who stop by. But we got a good slot, and the stage was actually right off the entrance on the way to a lot of the bigger stages. It started off there was maybe about ten people there, some friends of ours, stuff like that. Then as we started playing a lot of people walking through, they just stopped and watched us and by the end of that our stage probably had 80 or 90 people crammed into that smaller local stage.

Most of the demographic at Warped Tour is 14-20 year olds, so that demographic is obviously kind of what we go after. We’re not even intentionally like, “We’re going to write for all these people,” but you know when I was 14, 15, 16, etc. that’s when music was the most important to me as far as taking it in and listening to it. So we find that we get that demographic just by playing shows and having them see us, and also stuff like YouTube. We’ve got people from all over the world. We had a guy from Australia comment on Facebook page the other day asking when we’re coming there; people from Tennessee, people from Chicago, people we’ve never played shows for, but they’ve either seen one of the reviews on the album, or they saw one of the YouTube videos, or I guess a mix of both. The Internet is a powerful tool. There’s a lot of people going that route, but the other half of it is shows and we find playing all ages venues tends to be the most fruitful and that’s how we retain most of our fans. Bands can put out a video and they see that but then if they go and see a band live and they don’t put on a good show and they aren’t actually how they portray themselves, they’re not going to retain that fan. We hear people say “We saw this video or whatever and wanted to check you guys out and I loved your live show.” I think that’s the most natural way to do it, it seems to us.

Let’s chat about the new album. It’s been out for what a week or so. Already I’ve seen a lot of positive reviews for it. How’s the reception been so far? Also, what did you expect before the release?

You know, we didn’t realBrokentooth Album Artly know what to expect. Obviously we wrote the songs, we enjoy them, we went into the studio, worked with a producer that we liked, so we were like “Cool, we’re proud of this album, we like it.“ We realized that as far as from going from song to song not every song is a different version of the same thing. We have a quiet song, we have a poppier song, we have a heavier song. I think our biggest thing was like, “This is who we are, this covers everyone’s influences, it doesn’t stick to just one style.” So either people are going to be like “It’s too scattered, we don’t like it, it has no continuity to it,“ or people are going to appreciate the fact that there’s a little bit of everything. It’s not just heavy song after heavy song after heavy song.So we were kind of nervous about that but once we threw it out there and people started giving it a listen, friends and stuff like that, the reception has been a lot better than I had ever anticipated.

You know, one or two reviews, people are like “Ahh.. it’s so and so.” But for the most part all the reviews have been really good and most important to us, the people who have been following us and waiting for us to put it out a full length album: I don’t think we could have asked for a better reaction. From people giving us fan art based off the album – I mean quite literally we’ve gotten a painting based off of songs on the album already. We’ve had people send us messages saying “Hey, this is an album that I really needed because the emotion in it is beyond anything else that I’ve heard so far” from even just our friends being like, “Holy crap, you guys, I like you ‘cause you’re my friends, but this is actually an album that if I didn’t know you I would listen to and put on repeat.”So far it’s definitely been a positive experience for us. And a bit of a relief.

We threw it out there and people are grasping on to the emotion that we’re trying to put out on the album but not necessarily like it all has to sound like the same thing. The last year and a half of writing and moving down here, two years almost of living down here, getting new band members, getting our feet on the ground, all of that is what is in the album. And I hope that comes across to people as this is it. This is who we are and there’s no fluff behind it.

What is the writing process like for the band? Do you bring something musical to the table first or build off a lyric, how does it work?

When we started the band, CJ and I, I said, “Hey, I want to do music, you can do lyrics, sing however you want, do your thing, but I want to write the music” and it started off that way. Our first EP was fine, but nothing that I’m super in love with right now. Coming down here it was the same thing. Like, I’ll go to the band with an idea: “Here’s a chorus, here’s a verse, but I need a bridge” or “here’s the general concept” and throw it to them and it’s like “Okay, cool, let’s look at that.” What’s happened since we introduced Paul to the band is he’s really good at sorting out what needs to be there and what doesn’t. I have a tendency to have way too many parts to a song and they’ll be like, “Lets do a chorus then a verse. In that middle part we don’t need ten different pre-choruses, we don’t need four different verses,” and that kind of thing. It’s kind of like I have a whole bunch of Legos and I give it to them and I tell them to build it. That’s really the best way to describe it.

The one exception is “Vines and Thorns.” That song, Paul just started strumming the chords and CJ said “Keep playing that, I have lyrics that would fit that perfectly.” I think that song was quite literally written within one practice, with just him strumming those chords, CJ worked out the vocals, added a little lead line to it, and that was it. So I think that was the only song that was more Paul’s and CJ’s baby while all the others are more or less me bringing a general concept and they turn it into what it is.

Are you a band that’s constantly writing, like you already have ideas for the next project or are you just going to focus on playing shows and getting this out there for a while?

It’s a little bit of both. I already have a notebook right now with about ten new song ideas already in the works. The mentality is, we never want to rest on our laurels, so to speak. So if we have this album and let’s say it takes off, and a label decides to pick us up or whatever, they’re going to want us to have an album on the label, right, so I don’t want to get to that point where we’re touring and doing all these different things and then a label says “Hey we like you guys. Alright you need to put out a new record in two months” and we’re like “Oh, well we don’t have anything written”.

Number one, I love playing guitar and I do it every day and I’m always writing stuff, but number two, I don’t want to get lazy about it because even if I have ten ideas, only two of those might stick so I’m going to need to thirty ideas to have eight or nine stick, or whatever the case may be. So the weird thing is with touring or playing more shows, doing music videos, doing all these other little things that we’ve had to do now that we’re getting busier, we don’t have as much time to write as a full band. So I feel it’s more my responsibility to at least have a whole bunch of ideas and once we have some time to sit down as a band it’s not like “What do we do?” Then I have these thirty ideas and we can see what we can do and when the time comes for the next album we’re ready to go rather than trying to scramble around and trying to figure something out.

Makes sense. What does the future look like? More tours or videos in the works?

Yeah, actually we are hoping to premiere our new video we shot about three weeks ago now with a bunch of our friends that are in local bands and whatnot. We did a really cool concept which you’ll have to wait to see. We [premiered that] actually at the Slaves show on a local level and then a day or two after we’ll put it up for the world to see. That’s kind of the most immediate thing. Really, there’s no other way to advertise a band that’s better than doing a music video. It’s not like MTV or something where that’s the only way, is to do a video and hope to see it again. People go through the internet all day long and so you put out a good video and hope to get people to come out to the shows. So that’s our next thing is the editing process and making sure it’s as good as it can be.

We already started booking shows in October now. In September we’re taking a bit of time off. Our guitar player Paul’s actually having a baby, so we are going to be taking about two weeks off to let him obviously, have a child, do that thing and not be running around trying to tour and play shows while that’s happening. And it’ll be a good thing because it’s been nothing but constant running the last couple months. So it’ll give me time to work on more songs, new stuff, brainstorm ideas for tours, and then towards the end of September we have a show in Fresno booked. We have never played in Southern California. That was our next goal. We’ve done the Pacific Northwest a whole bunch. I mean we’ve played Spokane four or five times, we love it there, we’re always asked to come back. But, we have to venture South. So we have the Fresno show booked. We’re actually talking with a gentlemen about management that works with a label that I cannot discuss at the moment. But he’s really interested in us, he’s been following us. We toured with this band a little while ago called City of the Weak. Great band, great people, and they put us in touch with somebody. He lives in Southern California so when we get down there we’re going to talk to him, and he’s going to come out to shows, obviously to make sure our live shows are as good as they should be. Hopefully that’s going to be our next big thing.

As a local band wanting to get out our job is to play the music, do it right and promote ourselves but we don’t have the contacts and we don’t’ necessarily have the business Rolodex that a booking agent or a manager has, and that’s our next step. We can’t really go too much further. We can tour all over the U.S. by ourselves but without having proper representation, there’s no sense in playing a hundred shows and there’s only two people at each show. You’ve got to put in the hard work and not every show is going to be great. But, there’s also a certain point where you have to have a team assembled and somebody who knows what they’re doing so at least if you’re going to go out and play shows, cool, ten people, were there, cool, 15 people were there, oh cool, you got us in touch with a local band that would like to have us on and we can do this show with. Rather than us just cold calling bars or venues because we’re just another band like millions out there. So our next step is to get a booking agent, get management and be able to get out and do tours that, while they’ll probably be small and probably still be something where we’re not going to come back raking in the dough, but enough that we’re building a fan base and doing it the most efficient way possible.

Once we do this and finish getting Southern California booked, our next goal is to get over to Arizona, up to Utah, Colorado, and move East. But it’s baby steps and at this stage you still have to work jobs, save up money for gas and van to get around all these places and it’s not cheap. But we’re just slowly going out a little further each time and we’ve reached a point where we need people on our team to help us do that, who have the know how.

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