The following complete history of Coalesce as told by all the players is the unedited version (read: long) that was cut down for the feature in Alternative Press magazine in their September issue. You can still buy the magazine by going here. A big thanks to Ryan for doing this story, and Jason for letting us reprint the entire thing on our site.
Weaned during the mid-‘90s, Kansas City hardcore avatars Coalesce jettisoned the trends of the day and unwittingly ushered in a new consciousness within the realm of heavy music. Not surprisingly, they readily deconstructed time signatures and equipment as much as their interpersonal relationships. They made unlikely fans in future members of the Used and My Chemical Romance, while being happily relegated to house shows and VFW halls. Coalesce’s body of work is marked with touchstones for modern metalcore, every bit as crucial as the output of Cro-Mags, Judge, and Integrity. Frontman Sean Ingram and guitar savant Jes Steineger may have settled into roles as husbands and fathers, but if their personal visions are any indicator, Coalesce are once again preparing to tear a hole in the universe.
BY: Ryan J. Downey
SEAN INGRAM: Vocals
JES STEINEGER: Guitar
NATHAN ELLIS: Bass; singer/guitarist for The Casket Lottery and Able Baker Fox
NATHAN “JR.” RICHARDSON: Drums; also a member of The Casket Lottery, ex-Appleseed Cast
JAMES DEWEES: Drums, 1996 – 2002; touring keyboard player, My Chemical Romance; former touring keyboard player, New Found Glory; former keyboard player, Get Up Kids; multi-instrumentalist/vocalist, Reggie And The Full Effect
STACY HILT: Bass, 1994 – 1998, 2002; bass player for The Casket Lottery
JIM REDD: Drums, 1994 – 1995; drummer for Tarentel
CORY WHITE: Guitar, 2002; former guitarist for The Esoteric
DAN ASKEW: Founder, Second Nature Fanzine and Recordings
ED ROSE: Lawrence, Kansas based producer of every Coalesce recording since 1995′s 002; operates Black Lodge Studios (formerly Red House); has made albums with Senses Fail and the Get Up Kids, among others
SPENCER BENAVIDES: Long-time Coalesce roadie
MATT PIKE: Booking Agent, Coalesce; Owner, The Kenmore Agency
MATT PRYOR: Singer/ guitarist, New Amsterdams; former singer/ guitarist, Get Up Kids
MATT YOUNG: A&R, Band Merch; Product Manager, Earache Records, 1993 – 1996
GORDON CONRAD: General Manager, Relapse; Publicist, Earache Records, 1995 – 1996
JOHN DUDECK: Owner, Edison Recordings and Very Distro
BEN WEINMAN: Guitarist, Dillinger Escape Plan
NATHAN GRAY: Vocalist, The Casting Out; former vocalist, Boy Sets Fire
VIC DICARA: Guitarist, 108; former guitarist, Inside Out and Shelter
JAMES HART: Former frontman, 18 Visions; currently preparing a solo album with songs co-written by Avenged Sevenfold’s Synyster Gates and ex-Nixons singer Zac Maloy, who has written for Daughtry
FRANK IERO: Guitarist, My Chemical Romance
DON CLARK: Guitarist, Demon Hunter; co-founder, Invisible Creature; former guitarist, Training For Utopia
NEAL TAFLINGER: Bassist/ vocalist, Salvation; Former bass player, Birthright
1993 – 1994: HARVESTING MATURITY (AND BILE)
Enamored by the burgeoning vegan straight edge scene, Sean Ingram moved from Missouri to the movement’s epicenter in Syracuse, New York. In 1994, he returned home disillusioned and would soon throw a molotov cocktail on his former lifestyle with the caustic and iconoclastic lyrics to “Harvest of Maturity.” His future bandmates were on a similarly destructive course, albeit of a musical nature, crafting a mind-bending, heavy metal infused noisy controlled chaos the likes of which the musically restrictive genre had yet to hear, and subsequently would never recover from.
JES STEINEGER: If we’re gonna start from the beginning, let’s start from the beginning. I first heard Metallica when I was eleven (1987). I had always liked music to a certain extent. My parents listened to a lot of music. But when I first heard Garage Days Re-revisited, it was true love (as only an eleven-year old could experience it). Whatever it was that those guys were doing, I wanted to do it. I wanted to make something that exciting. Over the next year, I acquired Slayer’s South of Heaven, Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of the Seventh Son and Somewhere in Time, and all of the Metallica releases previous to Garage Days. I had to re-record Master of Puppets inside of six months because I simply wore the thing out. My parents agreed to pay for guitar lessons when I was twelve; the same summer I saw Metallica on their Justice tour. After seeing them live, I went deeper and deeper into the fringes of metal, i.e. all the death and thrash classics at the time. I didn’t go to my first local show until spring 1991; this typical Metallica rip-off band (“Mortal Reign”) that nevertheless drew a crowd. The following week I saw Jesus Lizard at the Outhouse (the CBGB’s of the Midwest) and was utterly blown away at the antinomian fervor of the entire punk scene: the raw quality of the music, the authentic demeanor of the bands, the unruliness of the crowd, the isolated environs—all of it. A band named Ritual Device opened at that show, and they are responsible for giving birth to much of what I appropriated in Coalesce (as well as this band called “Crawlpappy” from NY, which opened for Quicksand a few months later; Dazzling Killmen also left an impression). From that point on, I was going to shows every weekend, and it wasn’t long before I bumped into a Youth of Today cassette, therewith discovering “hardcore” and it variegated proclamations. My baptism into the underground scene entailed that I had to hide my metal background, and the hardcore scene filled that void for a time.
SEAN INGRAM: I knew Jes. He was into the whole Hare Krishna thing. Everybody picked a cliché and went with it. I was in a band called Restrain, before I had moved to Syracuse, playing in basements. Our cliché was straight edge. And his band, Amara, was into Krishna Consciousness. And we’d always play together.
JES STEINEGER: Sean was actually the coolest guy I had ever met in the scene. For some reason, he and Dan Askew befriended me immediately. We first met at a Restrain show at the Outhouse; Sean’s first gig in Restrain, actually. This big goofy kid with a sparkling bald head – some sap had fallen on his head from a tree outside his house and so he had shaven it completely off – and these enormous glasses. He took off the glasses right before the set, walked up on stage in his duck-footed Ingram waddle, and freaking blew the place apart. Face beat red out of all that power. Or was it embarrassment? Or was it both? Who cared? I was stoked out of my mind. It was long after that we would have these silly one-comment-off arguments about Krsna and veganism. On the one hand, it was definitely like Sean said: we picked a cliché and ran with it. But it was also a bit more than that. It was all of us, as kids, trying to figure out who we were. So, at the time, there was a lot of zeal put into our differing existential alliances – ‘I’m a vegan,’ ‘I’m a Krsna,’ ‘I’m a punk,’ – such that it didn’t feel like it was cliché. The only thing that mattered was that each alliance be countercultural.
DAN ASKEW: I had known Sean since the second grade. He was kind of a punk dude way back then! He had like a shaved head. He looked like a little Ian MacKaye. We got into music through skateboarding together.
SEAN INGRAM: Jes was kind of a weirdo, a really intense dude; he had his own ideas about what reality was and how to do stuff. The whole Krishna thing, he was 110% into it; he was all deep into that stuff.
JES STEINEGER: The Krishna thing gave some shape to certain inherent tendencies that I have had for ultimate concern since as far back as I can remember. But to the extent that it gave shape, it also merged with all the other teenage disorientation that many American youths experience. When you first start to think about who you are, it seems the first response is to hate everyone around you. Why? Because they can potentially replace you if you yourself are not unique (Cf. Hegel’s Phenomenologie des Geistes, IV). Amara was simply an external expression of my hatred for everyone around me in light of not having an idea of what I was. Seriously, what better way to stick out in school than to have a shaved head and a dhoti, preaching some deontologicalized and evangelistic (even Protestantized) Hindu sect’s doctrines? Wielding such an ideology enabled the possibility of achieving what I really wanted as a teenager: an identity separate from the innumerable ‘idiots’ around me. As a bonus, I got this great orientalist aesthetic for a complement to my counter cultural ‘identity.’
SEAN INGRAM: In 1994, I had just moved back from Syracuse, where I had been involved in the whole vegan straight edge scene happening around Earth Crisis. I was living at 127 Harvard Place across the street from Guav and all those vegan straight edge guys. You know, I went to ‘How’s Your Edge Dot Com’ recently and just about every person I knew there is on that list except for DJ Rose and Guav [laughs]. When you’re in that straight edge scene, you’re like ‘true ’til death!’ and you really give yourself a hard time when you sell out. But I can’t live with a label like that. I’d rather live with the label of father and husband and business owner. When I came back from there, I was rebelling against straight edge. How old was I, eighteen? And now I’m 32 and people who got into straight edge two years ago are still talking about what a piece of crap I am because I sold out [laughs]. But that’s where I was coming from. I moved back around Easter of 1994, from Syracuse.
JES STEINEGER: I took to Earth Crisis, Inside Out, Youth of Today, Bold, and the others. I came in at a juncture where the context was set for metal to make a more significant crossover into the scene, even though there were still significant constraints about what a straight edge kid could listen to. In a perhaps unorthodox fashion, I continued to listen to (and more importantly, enjoy) music outside the fold: Fugazi, Godflesh, Drive like Jehu, Unsane, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Ministry, Rorschach, Tool, Quicksand, Helmet, Pantera, Sepultura, Metallica, and especially the local-Midwest bands of the time: Season to Risk, Quitter’s Club, Molly McGuire, and Germbox. I loved everything and anything that had intensity and power; I loved seeing a crowd abandon all cultural mores and conditionings in a Dionysian frenzy, which was becoming rarer as time went on. Things seemed to me more authentic then, more honest in its countercultural quality, but Nirvana had hit, and so I only caught the very tail-end of a scene that had truly attempted to remain underground and separate from pop culture.
The seed for what would become Coalesce was planted when Stacy Hilt (Steineger’s high school buddy and fellow Hare Krishna devotee) set up a practice with Steineger and drummer Jim Redd, and the guitarist realized Redd could keep up with his bizarre time signatures. Eager to impress each other, they wrote, rearranged and rewrote.
STACY HILT: Jim Redd had been in a band called Loathe that was basically a Helmet cover band. His talent far extended past the other members. Jes and I had been playing together. We had tried out four drummers before Jim. Jes was always ready to give up on music and devote his life to Krishna. But when I put those two together – Jim and Jes – it was like, ‘Boom!’
JIM REDD: I actually can’t remember when or exactly how I met Stacy and Jes, but we hung out a couple times, played each other what we were into, and got along well, so we decided to give it a go. For a while it was just the three of us. We played a Battle of the Bands at my high school, and oddly enough got paid more than at any of the shows we did with 108 and Bloodlet in ‘95. We practiced every Saturday, ate a ton of Indian food, and Stacy and I would skate every now and then.
JES STEINEGER: After numerous attempts to find a drummer for a new project, and my increasing exhaustion with trying to get a band off the ground, Stacy informed me that he had located a “kid he just met at a show” (an oft-repeated mantra that I was quickly growing used to). We were to meet at the new guy’s basement the following Saturday to try things out. Once that morning arrived, I got a call from Stacy a few minutes before I left home: “Sorry, dude. I can’t make it. Don’t worry though, this guy’s cool and he knows you’re coming.” So my first meeting with Jim Redd was a blind date. He was cordial, yet kind of removed. Confident. Yeah, that’s the word. Not necessarily prideful, but assured of his abilities. As I was setting up, I listened to him warm up. I hadn’t heard anyone play like that before. I got so scared and finally concluded that now was the time to step up. Why? Because I wanted to be in a band with this guy. Once everything was set up, it was like a western showdown. Who was going to say something first? He was much more confident, so he asked: “Well, what do you have?” Next thing I knew, the off-time chorus riff to the song that would become Harvest of Maturity just came out. More or less, I was jacking up in the process of thinking something up, but then I thought, “You know, this is a sort of cut-time like I’d play in Jazz Band at school. Maybe I should turn it into an off-time signature. I could count it, but would he able to?” Jim looked back at me for a bit as I finally worked it out into a repetitive cycle. “How are you counting that?” His response on the drums was like sex, and coalesce was the child. Over the course of the next few weeks, we wrote a few songs, and starting scanning shows to find a singer. It was also at that time that I adopted Jim’s critical and demanding ways, which would influence my personality significantly, setting a context for how I would think about coalesce songs up to the present day. A lot of stuff was scrapped in those early days. We eventually had enough songs to enter a local high school battle of the bands without a singer. We took second place, got our first loot ($100) and somewhere there’s a video of that show, if it hasn’t been lost like so much other stuff. After this show, we were pretty convinced we wanted to keep it going, and keep trying to find a singer.
STACY HILT: I remember setting up for the Battle of the Bands. There was this band called Son of Squid with this crazy light show and special effects. And there we were – two Hare Krishna guys, including Jes in a Krishna robe and a bald head with a pony tail – and this hippy-ish drummer. We weren’t even a complete band! And we took second place. We were able to rent a four-track recorder with our winnings [laughs].
SEAN INGRAM: When I came back from Syracuse, those guys were doing something not defined by anything except honest to goodness music. And I always knew that Jes’ music would go places. I had faith in that.
JES STEINEGER: Around Easter 1994, Sean came home for a weekend visit. We ran into him at a local hardcore show. We had put together a basement recording of the stuff we had written up to that point and had it on hand whenever we went to a show, just in case we were to happen upon someone who might work as a singer. We gave Sean a copy, as was becoming our routine. Sean took it, put together some lyrics, and came back a month or so later with the completion of Harvest of Maturity. He wrote it, mind you, in light of his disillusionment with the Syracuse community with whom he was living at the time. This was something he was talking about that day at the show when I first gave him the tape. His first practice coincided with his moving back from Syracuse and shifting through the shambles of disappointment that one acquires when seeing his idols too closely. His disillusionment was cool and all, but ultimately, Jim and I only cared about one thing. “Again, again, again, again, again, again, and again!” That seriously sealed the deal. That first practice, that first crack at a first song, Jim and I were listening intently on whether this hardcore trajectory was what we really wanted to do. Once the hook hit and Sean was belting out those “agains,” Jim and I caught each other’s eyes and the deal was made.
SEAN INGRAM: We kept practicing after that every Saturday. We’d have practice, go eat Indian food, and then barely make it through the rest of practice [laughs]. We kept writing songs. It was cool. People weren’t pulling out Earth Crisis records. They were pulling out Jesus Lizard records, or Tortoise records. But the songs came out hardcore, that was our roots, especially with me in the mix, it made it hardcore.
JIM REDD: I listened to a lot of different stuff when I first met Stacy and Jes… 7 Seconds, Jane’s Addiction, Fugazi, Nirvana, Led Zeppelin, Tool, and a bit later, Tortoise. The last couple bands I was in before Coalesce wanted to be Tool… heavy guitars, heavy drums, wacky time signatures, and loud/quiet dynamics. So, that’s where I was coming from… long hair stuff. What I wanted to try doing was basically the same thing, but with none of the quiet parts… try to make every song a constant state of loudness and intensity, but still somehow get away with lots of changes and dynamics. Jes and Stacy had most recently been in what I guess was a more traditional straight edge hardcore band, but were also into metal, and wanted to do something different. For a while there, we were all into the same thing at the same time… That was before I’d put the whole van to sleep by listening to the dubbed out track on Red Medicine or Tortoise’s first record… or Jes would put us all to sleep by popping in a Cranberries tape.
STACY HILT: I had been influenced by a lot of Elton John and Jim Croce. Metal came in the picture in middle school when I was introduced to Metallica and Pantera by a buddy. That’s where my seeds had been planted.
1995: ON THEIR BEHALF
JIM REDD: Our first songs were all about the four of us challenging each other to write music with the intensity that I described above. So wacky time signatures and lots of changes were just part of that, but we were also trying to incorporate more free-form noise sections, and would also lay down rules based on what we’d figured out so far… like Jes and Stacy wouldn’t ever play the same part at the same time, ‘cause we realized it sounded the heaviest and the weirdest when they didn’t.
JES STEINEGER: It was around this time that we were still looking for a band name. We were kind of into the name “Breach,” but none of us were really committed to it. If I remember correctly, Sean hated it. He petitioned for “Interstate,” since after my move I was spending two weekends every month making the four hour drive back to KC to practice and write. He also had some other reasons for that name, but I can’t remember them now. I still tease him about it from time to time. One day, I was on the phone with him long-distance and we were bickering over the name and I said, “You know what? I’m gonna go through the dictionary in the next few minutes and call you back with three names. We’re gonna pick one and be freaking done with this.” “Coalesce” was the first name I pitched him and he was like, “That’s it!” Jim was eventually sold on it, too, though it took at least a month of finesse. Eventually he agreed to it because of its femininity, which he thought offset the weight of what Coalesce was becoming.
SEAN INGRAM: Our first recording, there were no cell phones. No Internet. It was long distance everyday. Jes had this credit card with a $500 limit and maxed it out to rent a 4-track DAT recorder and one microphone. We had to record each individual part separately. We had taken a wire hanger and put panty hose on top of it as a spit screen and I huddled over the toilet and got the vocals done. We knew it was garbage when we recorded it [laughs]. But everybody had faith in the songs. We got money somewhere and went into West End Studios. When we got those two songs, we realized, ‘Hey, this isn’t like xRestrainx or Amara.’
STACY HILT: We had all recorded in the bathroom because Jes has read about the acoustics in a bathroom in some recording magazine [laughs]. We were set up in Jes parents’ house. Jim Redd was in the living room. And he played all the songs without any instruments. And I’m still blown away by that today! [Laughs]
JES STEINEGER: Not long after our demo, we went in to do our first 7”. If I remember correctly, Sean got some loot from his friend at Chapter records (whose tooth was later cracked out by Sean’s mic at one of the Reno shows in 1995), and we went in to record two songs. That poor producer had no idea what the hell was going on. He was clean cut guy in his mid 40s, thin, well dressed. And we were inconspicuous; we didn’t have all sorts of tattoos or long dreadlocks or anything (my sikha was typically put up in a hat). He adjusted to the music rather quickly; but when it came time for Sean’s vocals, he flipped out. Before the first mic check, Sean tried convincing him that it was going to be loud and excessive. The studio man wasn’t convinced, and so Sean’s first “CHECK!” made the guy nearly fall out of his seat because the levels were mixed so disproportionately. I remember watching him chuckle during the first take. I’m sure it gave him stories for years to come. When we were in the final stages of mixing it that weekend, I remember thinking: “This is it. We’re really taking things in a direction that’s similar to the more extreme fringes in both hardcore and metal.” Sean and I had been listening to a couple of those Entombed records like mad, and he was obsessed with Carcass. Those months brought me back to my pre-show-going days when I was into metal, and a certain nostalgia set in. I recalled the first time I heard and saw the video for Napalm’s “Suffer the Children” on Headbanger’s Ball and how freaking extreme it was. Since Earache’s logo preserved that original encounter, I concluded that they were best for us and I was going to shoot for getting a contract with them. I told Sean and he really thought I was insane.
SEAN INGRAM: Jes shot for the stars. ‘I want to be on Earache Records. I want to be on something with that logo’ – the spiky logo, not the ice cream logo we got stuck with. It was unheard of for hardcore bands to be on there, they were doing straight death metal. Jes sent them our first 7″ and pestered the crap out of this dude at Earache everyday. There was no email. It was straight up phone calls over to England.
JES STEINEGER: I was making these calls at like 4 or 5 in the morning so as to catch the England office at a good time. I was up that early every morning for Krishna devotions anyway, so I just made it a habit to call them whenever I got the chance. At first, Mitch [Dickinson at Earache] sort of humored me, but then he sort of respected my zeal for wanting on the label. He eventually became like part of the band, coaching me about what we would need to do to impress the label owner. In spring of 1995 we played an in-store record release party for the Chapter 7”. Someone recorded the show and I sent it in. Mitch finally called with the good news that they would put out a 7″. I had been crying wolf with Sean so many times, telling him we were on the label, that when it actually happened, it took a few tries before I could get him to believe me. We were stoked.
MATT YOUNG: Mitch, who was A&R in Nottingham, was like, ‘This band is going to be amazing!’ The band had this combination of naivety and bravado: ‘Of course you’re going to do a deal with us!’ and ‘Of course we’re going to take over the world!’ One thing that came across more than anything was the passion.
SEAN INGRAM: Ed Rose was a local legend and we really wanted to work with him. We worked with him on 002 and we never looked back. We never recorded with anyone else.
JES STEINEGER: For me, Ed is the embodiment of Lawrence, Kansas. I consider him to be one of my favorite people on earth. He imbibes the generation of musicians immediately preceding my generation, and so I’ve always had a relationship with him that I don’t consider I-Thou; it’s more, pedagogical—respectful like, as if to an elder. He’s one of the only people I can take encouragement and receive criticism from (Ellis is another). Honestly, Ed is like another member in the band. He does things differently every time we come into the studio such that there is always some new approach to that specific project. I have no desire to ever try out another producer, in the same way that I have no desire to ever really try out another bassist or vocalist. He is family. I think he looked at us in those early days the same way that many people looked at us: ‘What is this weird ass conundrum of clean-cut normal looking kids playing this crossover thing between AmRep and death metal?’ It was sort of quaint, I imagine.
ED ROSE: I was really shocked at their music. I hadn’t heard anything like what Sean was doing vocally and what Jes was doing on the guitar. And I really enjoyed it. They are very talented guys. And they are family.
MATT YOUNG: That 002 EP was groundbreaking. And when you saw them play live, it was like they were possessed. I think a lot bands now, especially a lot of the Christian bands, owe a lot to Coalesce.
BEN WEINMAN: I remember it was the loudest record I had ever heard in my life. I didn’t know a record could be that loud, number one. The fact that everything was noisy and all the chords were open – nothing was muted – it wasn’t like typical metal. The riffs were pretty metal influenced, it was just loud. It sounded like a band just playing live. It had a real impact.
DON CLARK: I formed a band solely because of Coalesce. Jes’ riffs were like no one else – I hadn’t heard anything like that, ever. So crushing and chaotic. The music, combined with Sean’s vocals, were undeniably something special. I was very involved in the hardcore scene, but Coalesce was doing something different. Once the 002 EP came out, it was over. Coalesce was paving new ground. No one could touch them.
At Earache’s urging, the band embarked on their first ever US tour in support of the 002 EP, opening every night for Krishna-core evangelists 108 and Florida’s Bloodlet. Coalesce braved the road (and embarrassment) in a conversion van that belonged to Sean’s dad and came complete with bucket seats, lighted interior and dropped mag wheels.
GORDON CONRAD: In hindsight, I don’t think they were ready for a tour that long and that intense. Their presence had a polarizing effect because they were so intense, so loud, so noisy. They were coming out of left-field in the hardcore scene at the time. They were an accident waiting to happen at all times. But as tumultuous as it was, they just forged through the length of the tour, the indifference in some cities, and the indifference they were met with by some of their own touring party.
JIM REDD: The tour with 108 and Bloodlet (which for all of us was our first real tour) was great. The Bloodlet guys were amazing and helped keep me sane. We met a ton of people, got to play music every day (including a show at CBGB’s), drove all over the country, and saw about as much beautiful stuff as we did completely fucked up stuff… (including boogans with guns chasing us on some highway in Minnesota in the middle of the night, Deliverance style…) What more can you ask for when you’re 17? Well, like I said, for all of us it was our first real tour. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the total number of shows we’d played before the tour, and could probably count the number of out-of-town shows on one or two fingers. I could also probably count the number of times we drove to one of our shows with all of us in the same vehicle on my right hand even if I was an amputee and missing my right arm. So needless to say, it was a lot to happen all at once. It’s like that cliché of all the weird shit you find out about your girlfriend (and she finds out about you) when you get married… and how it’s made all the more complicated if you never lived together first. There were times we’d get 5 or 10 dollars after having driven for 12 hours and sat through 6 local bands who all got paid as well as or better than us. It was stressful, and all of us over-extended ourselves. We were broke, our van kept breaking down, Sean’s wisdom teeth came in and had to be pulled, and we were screaming our guts up and bloodying & bruising ourselves night after night. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It helped make me who I am today.
JES STEINEGER: I recall so much from that summer, still to this day. I had sort of a younger brother relationship with [108 singer] Rob Fish. I used to pester him like an older brother.
SEAN INGRAM: Rob Fish would get rough with Jes, who is skinny and kinda frail, like a jock would. It made me uncomfortable. Jes thought he had found the truth in Krishna Consciousness. We thought Jes was a flake, but he wasn’t, he was searching for truth. There was a lot of that during that tour.
STACY HILT: Every chance we’d get we’d go to a community park and play football or frisbee. But with Rob, it was always like full-contact. Jes was a decent basketball player but Rob would just be pushing him around. It was funny but at the same time, he really just came off like being a jerk. I ran into him years later, and he asked me if Sean and I were still mad at him for the way he treated Jes on that tour.
VIC DICARA: Jes and I had been writing letters back and forth for a long while. I had been basically answering his questions regarding the Krishna form of spirituality. His were fairly thorough, detailed inquiries. He struck me as a good dude with sincerity. I vaguely remember that they were quite disorganized and had van trouble.
STACY HILT: Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could go back and do that tour again, because I took the experience for granted. I was really homesick, and I was really confused about the Krishna thing at the time. I was 19 years old. I had never been out of Kansas City. I had never experienced people on that level, being stuck in a van, meeting all these guys, coping with people coming up and talking to me all the time.
JES STEINEGER: My impression was that 108 thought our odd-time signatures were just us messing up. Our sound on that tour was completely representative of us: naive. It was thin and noisy. There was lots of high-end and a worthless guitar sound with no mids. Kids hurled stuff at us for being too ‘noisy’ and would yell, ‘Shut off that damned feedback!’ and ‘Learn to play your instruments!’ But regardless of how other bands, or crowds, felt about our band, none of it mattered to me. It was always about what I could get from the experience. I didn’t care one iota whether people liked it, understood it, or would ever buy it. I only cared about having the chance to be above the law if for but half-an-hour of my life. Where else would I have the freedom to do what I did at Coalesce shows? To feel that way?
BEN WEINMAN: The first time I saw them play was on that tour, at Wetlands. And Jes just had a black eye [laughs]. And they just seemed totally possessed. I was like, ‘This is what it’s all about. Definitely.’
SEAN INGRAM: We were always on first. Little to no pay. No merch sales. We learned the most on that trip. We loved the Bloodlet guys. They treated us like family. Jes was full-blown Krishna, he kind of got along with 108, but he wasn’t really embraced as a fellow believer. It felt like, ‘That’s great, go back to your band.’
JES STEINEGER: I don’t recall 108 being distant or antagonistic. Both they and Bloodlet were simply more mature; both had toured before, played way more shows than us, and knew how to budget. Bloodlet was the secular side of my maturation; 108 instantiated my religious drives. That tour was a macrocosm of what was going on inside of me. After days of wild times with Bloodlet, I’d chill out and force Vic to read Bhagavad Gita with me. There were times when the 108 guys were quite gracious to me, so it would be wrong to look for cases when they might have been distant or removed.
STACY HILT: I still considered myself a Hare Krishna for about another year, but that tour raised doubts for me. 108 was preaching non-materialism but at every opportunity they would steal an earlier spot to get more exposure and put us on at later times. We were the opening band, no one had heard of us, and we’d get stuck at the ass-end of the show. In San Diego, especially, we went on at like three in the morning. And then at Long Island, there was this documentary crew filming this fest, and 108 stole our slot in the middle of the day and we ended up going on last at the show again. Sean and I were angry about that.
SEAN INGRAM: Toward the end of the tour, 108 gave all the guys in Bloodlet their own Krishna names and wrote them out in Sanskrit so they could get them tattooed. Granted, I think Krishna Consciousness is crap, but, I just didn’t feel included [laughs]. They did share food with us a few times. And that was nice of them.
VIC DICARA: I thought the singer was a fucking self-righteous dork and a slob of a Dan O’Mahoney wannabe. Maybe that is what left a bad taste [about Coalesce].
SEAN INGRAM: Later, on Functioning on Impatience, there is definitely what can be construed as a battle line thrown down against Krishna Consciousness. It was relevant to hardcore at the time, but I don’t think it’s relevant anymore. And it’s probably one percent of the battle line that Vic has himself since thrown down against it on his own website.
GORDON CONRAD: The next 108 record after that tour was far noisier. And Bloodlet made a radical shift in their direction after that tour — a direction they would follow and reap significant claim for, for many years.
After surviving the tour, stress fractures began to show within the band. Redd patently hated hardcore, Steineger wanted to pursue spiritual interests, and Ingram, by his own admission, was working everyone’s nerves. The band broke up that fall, the first in a series of self-imposed hiatuses. In an act of foreshadowing, James Dewees entered their orbit for the first time.
SEAN INGRAM: I would rib Jim and give him a hard time. I’m an annoying person in close quarters as I’m learning.
JIM REDD: Sean and I were always misunderstanding each other. It was always like that. I hardly ever understood where he was coming from, and he hardly ever understood where I was coming from. Tour was stressful, so it just made that all the worse.
JES STEINEGER: It’s important to note that Jim was not a hardcore kid. He didn’t know anything about that scene until I gave him stuff to listen to and then attended a Snapcase show together, almost immediately prior to Sean’s coming in. To this day, given the discussions we had at the time, I’m convinced that what Jim really had in mind for Coalesce was something like The White Stripes. Every time I hear that band I think of those early Coalesce days with Jim. I remember playing D.C., particularly because the crowd was especially hostile to us that day, and after the show this kid asked us why a band like us was touring in the hardcore scene. Jim and I looked at each other puzzled and were like, ‘Who should we be touring with?’ He was like: ‘I don’t know. Someone like Angel Hair, I think, but definitely not fucking 108.’
SEAN INGRAM: I remember in Seattle, Jim was really angry at our roadie and wanted to kick him off the tour, or he was going to leave. Jim would get homesick, angry, annoyed — he wasn’t road ready. He came from a privileged upper class background and I’d accuse him of being a spoiled baby, which didn’t help.
JES STEINEGER: I can see why Jim thought the hardcore genre was constraining and dull-minded. It was one of the things that stuck with me, therewith challenging me even to the present day to make Coalesce more interesting than the sounds around it. By the end of the tour, I was leaning more towards the religious than the secular. Vic’s guru enticed me to continue pursuing initiation from this other guru. Earache was going to offer us a four album deal. Despite the offer, people didn’t seem interested in something that sounded like it was trying to rip off the Dischord bands while incorporating the metal crossover thing, and I didn’t want to take the chance of pulling other people’s money into something that would later indebt me to them. Things were just too noisy; the off-times were basically a nuisance; and I think Sean’s vocals were too high-pitched for the times. In general, I was starting to be persuaded by Jim’s criticisms of hardcore, and that helped propel me into my decision to move into a temple. When Jim brought up the idea of getting another singer, I thought this was a prime opportunity to bring things to a head so that the band would dissolve and I could go about my business with the Krsnas.
JIM REDD: Tour was exhausting, so naturally afterwards we didn’t talk for a bit. I don’t remember the exact timeline or who suggested what, but Jes, Stacy, and I tried playing music together again. We also tried playing with James [Dewees], who I think was a friend of Stacy’s, but it just wasn’t working. I personally just couldn’t see things continuing as they were, so I bailed.
SEAN INGRAM: I knew something was up when nobody would call me back about practice. It’s the most annoying thing when your band hides from you. It’s a pet peeve of mine. So I just drove out there.
JES STEINEGER: James Dewees was this total suburban kid with bleach blonde hair, like 311 [laughs]. He had a real musical knack; a major in music theory. We auditioned him to be our singer at Jim’s house. During the audition, Sean called and Jim’s mom informed him that we were practicing downstairs.
STACY HILT: I had played with James in a band called Mailbox. It was a poppy Helmet. I noticed right away that James was musically a genius. His arrangements were very mature for a person our age. It was like Queen meets Helmet. Jimmy had called me up and said, ‘We need to replace Sean.’ Jes was reluctant at the time.
JAMES DEWEES: I had met Stacy at a show. And I saw the “Harvest of Maturity” release show. I’m in the picture standing next to Matt Pryor before we even knew each other [laughs]. Stacy told me they were looking for a new singer. And so I went over there. I started screaming. And then Sean walked in!
SEAN INGRAM: I figured I’d be like, ‘How come you didn’t call me?’ and then we’d write some songs. I walk in and James is yelling into the microphone, and Jim gets up from his drum kit and runs upstairs. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’
JAMES DEWEES: That was my cue to leave [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: I wanted to move to the temple in St Louis and I said that it was probably best if we all just went our separate ways.
STACY HILT: That was a tough time. I don’t like talking about it [laughs]. Sean and I were good friends. We both collected toys, and comics, and we’d go to conventions together. This was more than replacing a band mate. This was replacing one of my best friends. Jim wanted to find a new singer, or he would be done.
SEAN INGRAM: I remember Jes was like, ‘Alright cool, we broke up! See you later!” He got in his car and left [laughs]. I was like, ‘Don’t you know we could be on a label and make something of this?’ I didn’t understand why Jes just left. I was angry at him. But I have definitely been accused of remembering things wrong, especially by my wife ten times a day [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: After that, Sean got married, Jim went to school, Stacy started another band, and I moved into the ISKCON temple in St. Louis.
SEAN INGRAM: Later, I started getting phone calls from Jim’s dad, who is a lawyer. I had been married for like 6 months, I had $200 in the bank, and they were saying I owed $600 for the tour t-shirts because Jim was a minor and I was the only adult in the band. It fueled my hatred for Jim at the time [laughs]. Even in the breakup I felt like I had to tie up all the loose ends and I really resented those guys, especially Jim Redd.
1996: EVERY REASON TO
In late-summer 1996, Gordon Conrad called Jes at the Krishna Temple. After some conversation, he faxed him all the press that the 002 EP had received. The guitarist was re-evaluating his situation at that time, with the aim of possibly reactivating the band. Redd, however, emphatically refused to be a part of it. That fall, Dewees would re-enter their orbit and jumpstart their enthusiasm significantly.
GORDON CONRAD: I didn’t know he was at the temple at the time. It wasn’t my intent to talk him out of his soul-searching endeavors, which have always been part and parcel of his personality. It wasn’t my intent to talk him out of living at the temple. I wanted him to know what was happening with Coalesce and how people were responding to their record.
SEAN INGRAM: I get a call from Jes. He was living in the Krishna temple in St. Louis and he was getting married. He was selling books, cooking the food, cleaning the bathroom, basically living like a monk.
JES STEINEGER: The temple had not turned out like I had initially hoped; I was now caught in this marriage engagement that I should’ve called off if I had not been a coward; and I was really missing the escape that the rite of the show provided. I became really disillusioned when I was told that this particular Swami whom I had been petitioning for initiation turned me down. That was made worse by a sexual appetite that couldn’t be assuaged through the ascetic practices set up by ISKCON.
SEAN INGRAM: We went out there [for the wedding] and Jes was like ‘bring Jim out here and let’s talk about doing the band.’ I wanted to do this stupid band so bad that I did what Jes was hinting at and swallowed every bit of pride and anger and called Jim. We went up to the wedding and talked about it and Jim just didn’t see any point in doing it. He’s an amazing drummer. But he was an indie kid. He didn’t want to be in a hardcore band, dealing with other hardcore bands and hardcore shows, I don’t think he signed on for that. And we both have strong personalities. I’d grovel, lie, swallow pride, anything to keep that band together, because that was my identity. I looked at myself as the guy in this band who accomplished something by getting on Earache.
STACY HILT: Sean and I knew when we went to St. Louis that Jes wanted to do the band and we were totally excited about playing and touring again. We realized we had taken it for granted before. I remember this as if it were yesterday: we had just had lunch with Jes and he had taken us where he was living and it was basically a curtain around a bed mat on a floor. He stuck his arm around Sean and I and said, ‘Are we going to do this again or what?’ Sean and I were grinning ear to ear, but Jim was like, ‘No way.’ What should have been a great day for Jes, and us, was overshadowed by the fact that we were thinking ‘What are we going to do now?’
JIM REDD: About a year after the 108 and Bloodlet tour, everybody brought up the idea of getting back together. I was getting ready to move to Baltimore to go to college, and just had totally different stuff going on musically and otherwise, so I said no… with no hard feelings. I actually haven’t heard much [of their music since then]. It’s definitely flattering though when you meet people that go crazy when they find out you were in Coalesce. I play in a band called Tarentel, and last year we did some west coast shows with Pelican, and they couldn’t believe that I was in Coalesce. It’s happened to me a ton… weddings, shows… fucking everywhere. People who love them some Coalesce REALLY love them some Coalesce!
JES STEINEGER: I left the temple within the month; moved back to Kansas City where I crashed at Sean’s house with my new wife and began writing songs for Give them Rope. After a month, I had exhausted all of my meager savings from living in the temple, and so I moved back into the house that I grew up in, which my parents still owned. Stacy found a local drummer who couldn’t emphasize enough that he had played in Season to Risk previously. Seriously, that guy gave us that line at least one time in every paragraph of conversation.
STACY HILT: When we met Steve Nichols, the drummer who had played with Season To Risk, it was at a Godfather’s pizza and he had a cassette in his car of the 002 stuff. He was air-drumming and Sean was just convinced by how well he was air drumming in his car [laughs]. And he shows up, sets up his twenty-piece drum kit with all these crazy cymbals and chrome, and we were there for about two hours on the same song.
JES STEINEGER: He finally brought his kit over and set up after a week or so of “learning” the 002 songs. After meticulously setting up his kit and putting on his fingerless gloves, he was like, ‘Okay, let’s play 73-B.’ ‘You mean 73-C, right?’ ‘Yeah, that one’. Enter click count-off: 1, 2, 3, 4…. ? ‘Sorry dudes, I’ll get it here in a minute’. He seriously restarted that song like 20 or 30 times before we finally said, ‘You know what? Give it some more time and get back to us when you feel ready’. He was so embarrassed that he asked to leave his drums in Sean’s basement until his next attempt. He was looking for a way to get out of Dodge quicker, I think. For the next few weeks he would periodically call to say that he was practicing the tunes on his practice kit at home. We never saw him again, though.
SEAN INGRAM: Stacy was like, ‘What about that guy who tried out for Sean?’
STACY HILT: [James] is a prodigy. He has a natural talent for instruments.
JAMES DEWEES: At my audition, Sean comes up to me, he’s like, ‘you don’t drink or anything, or do drugs do you?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ And he was like ‘alright, cool.’
STACY HILT: Jes was like, ‘What the hell is this kid doing here?’ He just had this scowl.
JES STEINEGER: The problem was that [James] didn’t have a drum kit. Yeah, we were auditioning a guy for drums that didn’t have a kit. I didn’t have any equipment either; I had sold everything I owned, except my Charvel, before moving into the temple. I was playing through this makeshift 15” house speaker and some practice-sized Crate amp. So, how nice it was that the previous guy had left his kit in the basement! James came in, sat down, and said, ‘How about Grain of Salt?’ I was kind of a dick to him, because I was expecting another situation like the one we had experienced a few weeks earlier.
JAMES DEWEES: I remembered some material from the demo tape from when I tried out to sing for them.
JES STEINEGER: I started the song, and James freaking nailed it. It was like he wrote the damned song. Knew it inside and out. He wasn’t smiling; wasn’t jacking around; just concentrating and hitting that kit so freaking hard that we couldn’t hear anything else.
SEAN INGRAM: I remember Jes was playing the guitar and looking at James like, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this!’ I remember him falling on the ground and laughing hysterically. ‘Dude you’re in! You’re so in!’
JES STEINEGER: As Ellis has gone on record to say: James played drums like a guitarist. This is so true. James didn’t care about anything technical; it was purely a base concern for rhythm and rhythm only. This was perfect, because I’ve always treated my guitar like a percussion instrument: no picks most of the time, since I couldn’t afford them or would lose them; using my fist as the means of strumming in 50% of the pieces; pulling the strings away from the guitar so as to achieve a crackling nuance in the noisier sequences. We complemented each other well.
JAMES DEWEES: Jes and I got along as a drummer and guitar player really, really well. He wrote these crazy things and I’d make him play it really slow and I’d count it and work out how many times we’d do it. What is so rad about Jes, he wasn’t even thinking, he just played like that. He would nod to it and not understand why people couldn’t nod to it as well [laughs]. And Coalesce shows were just fucking chaos.
JES STEINEGER: And James knew a lot of girls. I started seeing this girl that I met at one of the house shows we had been playing – some of my favorite shows ever – and James became my wing-man. He’d cover for me when the wife would wonder where I was. What a mess that time was. Not only was I a complete wretch to that poor girl, but I threw James into the most despicable of roles. Despite all this, James was the only one who never judged me, even though I have no problems understanding why so many did and should have.
JAMES DEWEES: I just figured, ‘Well, this dude’s got needs’ [laughs]. It was a friendship thing. He’d need a ride, I’d give him a ride. Even though I knew what he was doing was wrong, he’s my friend, and I also knew he wasn’t happy. He was living a little. There were certain things he needed to get out of his system. Jes’ wife at the time, Kristin, she was really nice. She cooked really good Hare Krishna food, if you’re into that.
JES STEINEGER: My quasi-marriage came to a really messy end in a legal annulment, due to the conditions of us living at a temple at the time we were married. I became really interested in Tantric sexual practices and fused that with a full-blown Dionysianism at the Coalesce shows. There were a few shows where I was masturbating in my pants during the ends of the sets while things are going nuts.
JAMES DEWEES: That was pretty bizarre. I regard Jes as a genius. He’s the most eccentric person I know, but the most humble. He’s just eccentric with his music. Ben from Dillinger is one of the only guitar players I know that can match his capability. You don’t know what the fuck is going on in their heads, but you love it!
BEN WEINMAN: It was like some Black Flag riff fucked the hell out of Entombed and then: a Coalesce riff [laughs]. Jes was like someone who came from metal but was influenced by the freedom of punk rock. It was cool to see that marriage. It was definitely inspiring.
Around this time, Second Nature collected some Coalesce odds and ends onto a CD. The week the discs came back from the plant, Coalesce were back together, preparing and then recording their proper debut full-length, Give Them Rope.
JAMES DEWEES: That was my first experience in a recording studio. It was such a huge deal for me. And my advisor at college said I could withdraw myself and pass, or he could withdraw me and fail, from going on tour to play some shows, and going to record the Napalm Death split.
ED ROSE: James was really different than Jim as a drummer. Jim was technically very solid. He hit the drums beautifully. James was a lot less technical but I think he was a bit more creative. He’d take any chance.
JES STEINEGER: It was so much more raw and full of freedom with James. This also marked Sean’s transition into a deeper vocal sound; something more powerful that to this day causes a certain feeling of adrenalin behind my sternum. I had never really been fully into his higher pitched stuff, a la Starkweather.
SEAN INGRAM: I was screaming through my throat before, but then I went on tour and learned how to use my gut to have a better sound and a stronger sound. I always attributed that to my balls dropping, but basically it was just travel. Figuring out how to use vocals. The first 7″ was high-pitched old school hardcore style. It just happened naturally. It wasn’t a conscious effort.
While Ingram was writing about his own personal experiences, Coalesce soon learned that militant straight-edge kids were taking great offense to what he was saying in his lyrics, onstage and in interviews.
SEAN INGRAM: We played in a basement in Indianapolis, and Kurt Schroeder from [militant vegan straight edge band] Birthright was supposed to pay us something like $50 and he gave us next to nothing. And all of his cronies were trying to start arguments and fights with us left and right. I remember this skateboard almost fell on my head, and I was like ‘Glad it didn’t,’ and [then Birthright bass player Neal Taflinger] was like ‘I wish it did!’ It was one of those, ‘Oh shit, I’m surrounded by enemies’ experiences.
NEAL TAFLINGER: You know, Coalesce was one of the true punk bands of the 1990s: totally dysfunctional, self-destructive, defiant, anti-social, and brilliant. It had an honesty that was hard to appreciate then, because it was all self-hatred and disillusion. It was a childhood quest for answers in a culture that offers none. So they were like, ‘Fuck it, destroy everything.’
SEAN INGRAM: That show concreted my hatred of straight edge. It just further fueled that rejection toward straight edge kids, which is unfortunate for Coalesce. A lot of people thought that Coalesce was an anti straight edge band. I didn’t know [Birthright] from a hole in the wall. I was met with anger and I met anger with anger. That wasn’t the right way to go about it, but I was 19 years old and that’s what you do. ‘He’s a jerk so I have every right to beat the crap out of him or talk crap about him.’ That’s the mentality.
JAMES HART: I heard Coalesce when I was a sophomore in high school and I became a big fan. I interviewed Sean for a friend’s fanzine when they were on the 108/ Bloodlet tour. He was really cool to me and I asked him about straight edge and he was really civil and cool about it. Later on, 18 Visions opened for Coalesce in LA. I was so stoked. I had a few friends of mine with me. They talked to Sean out front about straight edge, and veganism, and about his songs. It was never a vicious attack. I watched the conversation. It was never going to turn violent. So I was really bummed when I read interviews where Sean would say that 18 Visions and our friends tried to jump him outside of a show. I hated him after that. I was 19 years old or so and it infuriated me. I had a friend who sang for a band in Salt Lake City. Those kids there are serious about their lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with that. And that close friend of mine ended up taking his life after being paralyzed in a car accident from the neck down. I’m not going to pass judgment on anybody for what they do personally. But for some reason, Sean said something in an interview about him getting what he deserved. I don’t know if he was just trying to start controversy or if he really meant it. If he really meant it, that’s really cold-hearted.
SEAN INGRAM: I may have said that. If I did, it was way out of line, but it honestly doesn’t ring a bell. The guy that I think we’re talking about was the guy who drug me out of a show and got in my face and wanted to kill me, wanted to fight me, because he thought I wrote lyrics about him personally. He was accusing me of being a coward. “You’re a big shot when you’re behind a mic.” I was like dude, you write a hardcore song, you scream it, that’s what you do. I don’t scream at people all day about how messed up they are [laughs]. The story we heard, but don’t know if it’s true or not, was that the guy was [later] in a wheelchair and that all the people he had bullied when he was a big hardcore kid would come up to him and hit him in the face when he was in a wheelchair, and then he killed himself. I emailed James Hart years later to apologize and squash the beef. I had I felt like saying something like that was acceptable, I would not have.
JAMES HART: It got to a point where Sean grew up, like we all do, and he apologized. I accept his apology of course, no big deal, it’s water under the bridge.
JES STEINEGER: Just this past month, I started reading Sean’s lyrics; some of them for a refresher, some of them for the first time. I can honestly say that having known Sean for the nearly the greater half of his life, he has never instigated anything, but is always responding to something. Any lyrics that people read as an outspoken attack against their boob-like quasi-ideology within the sect of the underground music scene, should be understood as Sean’s reaction to extreme positions in the world; not the boob-ness of the quasi-ideology itself. His initial dealing with the Syracuse disillusionment via “Harvest of Maturity” was not a battle cry against anything; it was him dealing with his own life. The fact that people looked to him as some sort of iconoclast is totally misguided, I think. Anytime Sean would mention some sort of “feud” or other, I think the rest of us simply clocked out. I don’t think any of us ever gave Sean any attention in that regard. It was only when that stuff would affect us in some moment of immediacy – like having to leave a show pronto before some mob got a hold of us for our ostensible stance against them – that we would think about it. Asking about lyrical content and discursive feuds is much more Sean’s thing with coalesce; I really don’t know the full contexts or players involved in any of that stuff.
SEAN INGRAM: I don’t recall focusing on feuds or anything, but I definitely did want to know that if some crazy straight edge kids jumped me at one of our shows, someone would have my back. I think they would have, but I had my doubts at the time.
STACY HILT: I remember getting death threats at a lot of shows and being scared of being pummeled.
JAMES DEWEES: The thing that always struck me as so bizarre was how personal kids took stuff back then. I didn’t know about straight edge and all that stuff. I was from Liberty, Missouri! These kids that were calling Sean a sellout and stuff. It’s one thing to have your opinion and let it be heard. But there were kids that were threatening to kill his kid and saying this ridiculous stuff. And the kids saying stuff like that were waiting for their moms to pick them up in their mini-van! It was blowing my mind that these kids threatened murder. Sean would get really tense at shows because he had to stick up for wanting to have a steak.
1997: THEIR LOVE FOR EXTREMES
Ingram’s lyrics were creating a storm; likewise, the band’s music was difficult to understand for some, while groundbreaking to others. But an incident at a festival in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania threatened to eclipse all of that in the incredibly politically minded hardcore scene of the day. Hilt’s breaking point actually began a little earlier.
STACY HILT: We were playing a VFW hall in Buffalo, New York. I had always been the reserved guy everybody was always waiting to see break. Our first big show back, we were a minute in our first song, and all these kids crowded us and unplugged my gear. I had just spent $600 buying three bass guitars, I didn’t know I’d have to replace them all. They crowded me, I swung my bass like a baseball bat at the crowd, and then took it like an axe and broke the drum riser and my bass. That’s where my breaking of instruments and breaking mentally started. I threw my hands up, I was tired of being the solid point of the band, it was the most animalistic I’d ever been. [With Coalesce's performances] it wasn’t violence in an “I’m going to kill you” sort of way; it was more of a sexual violence. It was build up and build up and that was the pay-off. It never crossed my mind that it was a “cool” thing. And I started feeling that way about ourselves, that it became a parody, that we had to be this trainwreck every night.
MATT PRYOR: We had been hearing a lot about Coalesce, as we were from the same town, and we met up with them at a fest in Wilkes-Barre. We were bonding over being from Kansas City.
DAN ASKEW: The mood shifted so quickly. One minute we’re watching the Get Up Kids, having a great time, and the next minute Coalesce is half a song into their set and everything went flying.
JES STEINEGER: James started tossing his stuff as soon as I started smashing a guitar. A floor tom made its way into the front line of people – there was no stage, just as I prefer – and from there it was thrown way far back into the crowd, toward the back end of the building. It hit a girl and caused some sort of injury, but I was already moving my gear toward and into the van by the time I heard that anything had even happened.
STACY HILT: The floor tom bounced off Sean’s shoulder and landed on the ground. And then I saw a kid pick it up and toss it back, and then it was being tossed like a beach ball, and then it bounced off this girl’s head.
DAN ASKEW: The entire place wanted to jump Coalesce as if it had been intentional. And I’m pretty sure someone in the crowd had picked it up and tossed it back before it hit her. It was pretty crazy.
JES STEINEGER: There was a flurry of yelling from other bands and people there which culminated in the cops being called. When I heard that the cops were coming, I took off and just wandered around by myself thinking about Coalesce and what it was. I came back a few hours later [and] things had been worked out.
MATT PRYOR: The promoter comes up to James and starts yelling at him. James is like, ‘Well, have you ever seen us before? That’s what we do.’ The guy didn’t have a response. I was like, ‘This is awesome!’
MATT PIKE: That was kind of their M.O.. I think that’s where bands like Dillinger got their sense of danger. You never knew what to expect with Coalesce. I remember booking them for this massive show in Northhampton, Mass. with Converge, Deadguy. And their set would just end because they would just start throwing their gear everywhere. When that chick got hit – this was a very p.c. era of hardcore – everyone was like, ‘Coalesce attacks women.’ [Laughs] But it was just like, bro, throwing their equipment and shit, that’s what they do!
STACY HILT: That was it for me. I didn’t care if anyone in the band borrowed another instrument to finish the set before the floor tom was even to the back of the room, I was already packing up and leaving. Sean was screaming in the middle of this chaos, Jes had jumped off his back into the crowd and was throwing pieces of his guitar into the crowd, and Sean looked up and saw me with my head down walking out. It was mostly fear and embarrassment about what we had become. It felt like, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’
JAMES DEWEES: I picked up my floor tom and just chucked it. I found the girl that it had hit and I apologized to her. The kids who said I threw it at the girl were retards. I offered to take her to the hospital and pay for anything. Her boyfriend thought it was awesome! He wanted a Converge hoodie, which I got him. I was bummed out that it hit a girl, but other than that… It was amazing, the chaos that ensued. Kids were outside fighting over my bass drum! I gave a kid a screwdriver and two kids divided up the wood and metal. It wasn’t planned for it to get that crazy. I regret hitting a girl with a floor tom. But I don’t regret throwing my shit.
DAN ASKEW: [That incident] was Stacy’s breaking point. He was through. He quit when they got home.
SEAN INGRAM: Stacy seemed to have a love hate relationship with Coalesce.
JES STEINEGER: I really like Stacy and think that what he went on to do with the Nates in Casket Lottery was much more expressive of who he is than Coalesce ever was.
SEAN INGRAM: At another fest, Detroit Fest, that Boy Sets Fire record on Conquer the World had come out. I was so blown away by ‘Vehicle,’ I believe it was. And so I interviewed them for Second Nature fanzine.
NATHAN GRAY: We were making fun of some of the kids who were taking themselves too seriously – as far as politics and being ‘p.c.’ – together, which is funny because we were an extremely political band. Coalesce was hellbent on pissing off those type of kids and it was funny how we got along on that same page! Coalesce was cool because they weren’t contrived. A lot of bands now are trying to be like Coalesce, but Coalesce did it without thinking. It was sort of violent, sort of scary, and people didn’t really understand it at the time.
SEAN INGRAM: I was like, we should do a split, and they were into it, but it took a long time to get organized. And then, the Get Up Kids said, ‘We should do a split!’ Same concept, different band.
MATT PRYOR: We were all hanging out together and playing shows together around town. It was funny to us. We were the only two bands from that city that were known nationally really and we were so different [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: The Coalesce house in Kansas City became a rehearsal spot for all sorts of bands, including the Get Up Kids and these great friends of mine, Rocket Fuel is the Key. We’d also put on shows there (Braid, Frodus, Elliot) in the summer, too, so we were all eventually having parties together and whatnot. That record is really an instantiation of the unique quality that the Kansas City scene had at that time, and the camaraderie that we all had. I love what the Getups did with our song, and I used to love playing their song live.
MATT PRYOR: And it helped that we had the same producer. It was just like, ‘Hey Ed, they’re going to come in and do one of our songs and then we’re going to try to turn a Coalesce song into a pop song.’ We played a show at CBGB’s with Spazz and Braid; it was a total clash of scenes. This burly New York hardcore dude with a big beard and full sleeves comes up to me and he’s like, ‘I like your stuff. I like that Coalesce split.’ I was like, ‘Thank you sir.’ And he was like, ‘I like going to these emo shows. Lots of chicks show up.’
SEAN INGRAM: [The owner of Immigrant Sun Records who was going to release the Boy Sets Fire split] flipped out, called me up yelling at me, couldn’t believe I ‘stole’ the idea – and first off, it was my idea — he was just outraged. I talked to Boy Sets Fire and we made the decision to pull it from him. I offered it to Initial Records and Andy Rich was like, ‘I’m not touching it! There’s too much controversy!’ And then I offered it to Hydra Head and I remember Aaron Turner being like, ‘I don’t give a shit.’ [Laughs]
NATHAN ELLIS: I had met Sean through Dan Askew and I eventually started hopping in the van, too, as a roadie. I was a junior in high school. I showed up at Dewees’ house, dropping Dan off, and they somehow convinced me to get in the van. I remember calling my mom and saying, ‘Um, I’m in Canada’ [laughs]. It was a natural progression for me to slide in the band when Stacy quit. I was nervous as hell. I don’t think I had actually even played a bass before that [laughs]. First thing we did was “Disgust for Details.”
JES STEINEGER: Despite a long and somewhat weird friendship with [Stacy] over the years, I say without any disrespect, that letting Ellis into the band was the best thing ever for Coalesce. It’s possible that Stacy saw that, too, and wanted to see it actually manifest, rather than thinking about it all the time when Nate went on tour with us as a roadie every now and then.
After recording Give Them Rope, Coalesce found themselves waiting a long time for Edison Recordings to release it. During the wait and with Ellis now playing bass, the band recorded split singles with Converge, Today Is The Day, Boy Sets Fire, and the Get-Up Kids. They also wrote an entire new record, Functioning on Impatience, which became a milestone for both the band and the scene.
JOHN DUDECK: At first, the band didn’t give me a track listing of what separated side one and side two of the vinyl for Give Them Rope. I had test presses made up and they were wrong. That slowed things down. I had done a deal with Overcast around the same time as Coalesce, and it made sense to us to put them out at the same time so we could market them and advertise them at the same time. Being a small label, it was hard to afford doing like a $600 Metal Maniacs ad back then. It was easier to advertise records together. And that was the biggest advertising campaign we did by far. We tripled what was in their contracts in advertising.
SEAN INGRAM: While we were waiting, we wrote Functioning on Impatience. We recorded it in a couple days. Back then I used to be able to do vocals in a couple hours. I was younger, skinnier. I could do it with no punch-ins t that was my claim to fame. Not now! But back then. That’s how we did that so fast.
JES STEINEGER: For me, this was the pinnacle of Coalesce. Nate joined the band right as we were re-recording 002 for Dan. That was his entrance; he seriously had joined the band not more than a week or two before that session. One of my favorite things that coalesce ever recorded was the outro to “Simulcast” during that session. We had a general structure for what we were going to do, but it was set up to let whatever happened happen. We had been playing those songs for so long, that it was the only coalesce release that we recorded each track together. I remember looking through the various glass panels to James, to Sean, to Nate; we were in the middle of that take for the outro and I couldn’t have been more content. Ellis was pulling it off; he had a grasp of what coalesce really was. James was wailing on his silly little kit, hoping that Ed’s stakes would keep his kick in place. And Sean was producing sounds without content. There was no logos! It was Coalesce in its raw mode of intentionality. I really thought Coalesce was a finely tuned machine at that point. Functioning was a consequence of that status.
JAMES DEWEES: Jes and I wrote that in his basement so quick and recorded it so quick. It was mind-blowing. There was a part in a song we couldn’t come up with anything for, Nathan had this awesome riff, it all just fell into place. Sean wanted to start out a song with vocals and that became “You Can’t Kill Us All.”
ED ROSE: That session was really quick, like all their sessions.
NATHAN ELLIS: I remember I wore my glasses to my first out of town show with the band—that was the last time I ever did! I remember showing up to high school graduation and worrying that I might not graduate.
JES STEINEGER: That whole time was a big transition period for me, because it was the first time I had sought to take the Christian Kerygma seriously. I really had a newfound sense of hope in the world, and I think the contrast between Give them Rope and Functioning expresses that. I hear it, at least.
FRANK IERO: I bought Functioning on Impatience and loved it. Sean’s vocals spoke to me. And the music was unlike anything I had ever heard. Was it hardcore? Was it math-rock? Who cared! It was just really good. The tempo changes, the accents… It was a surprise at every turn. You didn’t have to have a degree in music theory to like the band, but it helped. They band was what it was and made no excuses or apologies for it. I loved the freedom of Coalesce. And the fact that my parents hated it and some of my friends were confused by it and thought it was just noise? That just confirmed that I was on to something great!
NATHAN ELLIS: Around this time, if Sean was interviewed in a ‘zine, he would definitely say something that would grab somebody’s attention—usually the wrong kind of people [laughs]. Sean spoke his mind. And I think most of those people fully expected to be able to go up to him and bully him and scare him, and that never happened. Sean never backed down once and it was always awesome to see. He was always willing to have a conversation with people about what he said. And people would either storm off, or chill out and hang out for a while. There was a show in Colorado where some sort of crew or something [laughs] tried to intimidate us while we played. They intimidated the whole crowd! Nobody was having a good time. After three songs, Sean said, ‘Look if you want to talk to me, talk to me afterward, but we’re here to play a show.’ And things loosened up. And they came up to Sean afterward and in ten minutes, they were friends! When he spoke clearly and coherently to people, they could find a common ground. And other people just would storm off [laughs].
1998 – 1999: BURN EVERYTHING THAT BEARS OUR NAME
Coalesce kept a low profile in 1998, due to Steineger’s personal wanderlust tendencies, an issue which would crop up frequently within the band. The following year, the band set out to make a covers record similar to Metallica’s Garage Days Re-revisited. In a bid to reconnect with his father, Steineger suggested all 70s rock songs. Learning a Led Zeppelin song was so much fun, they ended up doing an album’s worth: There is Nothing New Under the Sun (re-released on Hydra Head in August 2007).
SEAN INGRAM: Jes had this idea that he wanted to cover a handful of really cool, completely non-hardcore songs, to just expand on the idea we did with the two splits with the two emo bands.
NATHAN ELLIS: The plan was to do like four 70s rock songs, and then it just got bigger… It’s just such a weird thing [laughs]. We were going to do a Mountain song, a Hendrix song, and some others, originally.
JES STEINEGER: I wanted to do the Coalesce Garage Days. And I wanted to do something that would breach a lot of disconnect that I had established between myself and my Dad. I thought that by recording some songs that he already knew, he would get a better idea of what I had been doing in Coalesce. I don’t think it ever really did that, but I know that he took the gesture in love and it brought about a lot of reconciliation. The record came at a time when I was burned out all the talk of our ‘technicality’. Returning to song structures and rhythms from older bands was one way of opening up a context for this.
SEAN INGRAM: Jes came in with a list that included “Magic Carpet Ride,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and a handful of Zep songs. We started learning a Zeppelin song and we were like, ‘This is so rad!’ That music lends itself to being so much fun to play. Once we started with Zeppelin, we didn’t look back.
JAMES DEWEES: What I thought was really funny was that Jes hadn’t really heard Zeppelin all that often. I was a hick. I heard football players listening to it all the time, or strippers humming it. And Jes had the Live at the BBC. I think it’s almost the exact order of disc one of that. And we decided to make it all a little more Coalesce, with different counts, or adding different backgrounds. I used a rain stick and shit. And Matt Pryor and I were doing Reggie and the Full Effect together. He and I both sang on that.
Not long after, Relapse Records signed the band and put them on the East Coast Contamination Tour with Nile, Neurosis, Unsane, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. Despite the deal and high-profile summer tour offer, there was still a sense of unrest within the band.
SEAN INGRAM: I was the only one married at the time and I had to make a certain amount to live to do the band. I was stressing the other guys out. They didn’t want to pay one guy more than the other guys. I was a control freak with this band. I was putting all of my energy into the band in a very negative way. Every last bit of it and I did not want to let go. And I was like, ‘Guys, we’ve got a record deal now!’ But things were breaking down.
JES STEINEGER: I was really in a sort of disarray at the diversity of Christianity at the time, and was trying to make sense of it all. I had gotten serious with the girl I would later marry in 1999, and so I was thinking outside the box of Coalesce; of what my life was going to amount to in the end. I was also working a serious job in those days, so taking the time off to go on extended tours was going to be an issue. It just became evident that I had to figure things out without the burden of coalesce around my neck – no more tours, no more pressure to come up with songs, no more pressure to deal with the financial and personal struggles within the band. James and Ellis were starting to do new projects.
SPENCER BENAVIDES: It was obvious how much Jes hated being on that tour from the first show.
DAN ASKEW: Jes didn’t say a single word for the first day and a half of the tour. He just looked out the window. And he lugged around this huge brown bag of Bibles that Nathan called ‘Bible Brown’. No luggage, pillow, or toothbrush, just a huge bag of Bibles that always seemed to be in the way [laughs]. Anytime we were stopped he’d have his nose in those books, in a dark corner at venues before shows. He started to snap out of it mid-tour and started talking and lightening up a bit, but I don’t think Sean was letting it go that easy.
SEAN INGRAM: Jes was drifting away because of his search for truth. We saw those signs. The dude didn’t want to be there. He had other things on his mind. He wanted to get married, do all these other things.
BEN WEINMAN: I remember Dewees playing me the Reggie and the Full Effect demo and being pretty psyched about it. He didn’t seem bummed about anything. But who knows what was really going on with them. I do remember Jes just being pretty distant as a guy, you know what I mean? And in his own world.
JAMES DEWEES: We were broke. Everybody was bummed out. We were all good friends but we didn’t have much to talk about. Sean and I did. I mean, we all did, but whenever shit gets rough, and times are tough, I like cracking jokes. I’m happy watching television. But the stress was lying on Sean.
NATHAN ELLIS: That tour was a couple weeks east, home for a few days, and then we headed west. By the time we got home, it was not a cool scene at all [laughs]. Everybody was tense in the van, and it was just an obligation at that point. And as soon as we had van trouble in Idaho and our new van died, I mean, it was really, really tense. It was just so sick.
SPENCER BENAVIDES: I was driving the van. And the van had always run hot. And Sean had always said to keep an eye on the heat gauge. I looked down and it was where it always was, I looked forward, and a minute later there was a ‘pop’ and black smoke was coming out of the hood. I started to pull the van over and Sean was saying how we had to push the van because we were just outside Burly, Idaho. He got out to try and push while it was rolling and he almost falls. Jes jumps out and eats shit, rolling through all these rocks. After that, we got towed in to town because we couldn’t push it far enough.
NATHAN ELLIS: We were in the middle of nowhere in some hotel room and nobody was talking. Jes was so excited to fly home and that kind of attitude just killed Sean, he was so pissed. I remember talking to James and Jes at some diner and it was evident at that point they were done with it, and nobody knew how to tell Sean. As soon as he came over to the diner, it all hit the fan.
JES STEINEGER: Sean had been with me for a long time and was sick of all my wanderings, whether into various religious commitments to figure certain things out or into any given state on the East coast to pursue some fling or other. The financial thing really came to a head. No one was making any real money in this thing, and in our hearts, I don’t think any of ever expected it to. But when you’re taking off for weeks at a time, you have to have something to pay bills with upon return – especially if, like Sean at the time, there are children involved. We had this huge fight in the restaurant that night.
NATHAN ELLIS: The conversation was ugly. It was really hard for everybody at the table to talk.
SPENCER BENAVIDES: I didn’t go in the diner because I knew they were breaking up.
JAMES DEWEES: Jes and Dan hitchhiked to the airport and flew home! It was like, ‘Where did you guys get all this money to buy plane tickets?’ [laughs].
SEAN INGRAM: James, Nate, and I took a U-Haul home. We basically just ditched the van in Idaho. That was the nastiest breakup.
MATT PIKE: This was before cell phones and email were super common, so I don’t think I even found out they had broken up on that tour until after the fact. Relapse told me about it afterward!
JAMES DEWEES: The band never functioned well, and yet, functioned [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: It was time to devote all my energy to figuring out why it was that I always wanted something more. And this required me putting Coalesce on the sacrificial altar. And I wanted out immediately; I didn’t even want to do a record for Relapse. I just wanted out. This put Sean through the roof, to put it lightly.
SEAN INGRAM: Relapse had already advanced us the money and I was still talking to [Relapse owner] Matt [Jacobson]. And I still really wanted to be involved with Relapse. The other guys wouldn’t return my calls. Finally I told Matt that he was going to have to call Jes and demand we pay some money back or make a record.
JES STEINEGER: Some words were spoken about the legal repercussions of my not doing another record, and so I locked myself in my room at my grandfather’s house where I was living at the time and wrote 90% of the music to 012 over the course of three days on my acoustic guitar (as is custom). It was like I was buying my freedom to find some new life or something. Sometime soon after, we took one week and met every night for 5 days to put the songs together and fill in missing spaces. I would go to work at 7 in the morning, get off at 5:30, hang out with my fiancée until 8, and practice with Coalesce until midnight. I’d get home by one in the morning, wake up and do the same thing the next day. We were all doing some schedule like that, I think.
JAMES DEWEES: I had to leave because I was in the Get Up Kids too. I went to the studio with Jes and we did guitars and drums. I was done in like a day, or a day and a half, and then I left and went on tour. When I got back, Sean and Nathan had just finished their stuff. And when I heard it, I was blown away! Which is bizarre because no one even saw each other during the recording of the record [laughs]. At the same time, I had kind of pulled myself out of it, because I was in the Get Up Kids.
NATHAN ELLIS: Personally, I think the first four songs are great, and the rest is filler. I know that Jes wrote a lot of those riffs and then we put ‘em all together, we practiced and wrote that record at the Get Up Kids recording space downtown, and I remember having a great time writing it! That sounds weird, with the crazy things around it, but it almost felt like the burden had been lifted and we were just putting songs together. I went in two weeks after Jes and James did their parts because I was on tour with the Casket Lottery. I think I was recording a Casket Lottery EP and did the bass for the Coalesce album in a couple hours.
SEAN INGRAM: James, Jes, and Nate wrote the songs, then they recorded, and then I recorded. We learned all the songs together. It was being treated as, ‘OK we got ourselves into this mess, let’s get this record done,’ and then, goodbye. The record came in at 30 minutes and that made Relapse angry and they sold it as an EP.
JES STEINEGER: We recorded the music in a weekend, and the mood was so depressing. I was removed; I think Nate and James were more concerned about the prospects of their new respective projects.
ED ROSE: You could tell that there was definitely a separation as a group. They didn’t have the gang mentality. James was busy with other stuff. It was a different attitude.
SEAN INGRAM: James had joined the Get Up Kids. He had discovered sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, you know what I mean?
JES STEINEGER: I didn’t even hear the vocals and read the lyrics until the test presses were being made by Relapse. I remember how hurt I was when I read a faxed copy of the lyrics. I called Gordon after reading them to convince him to take my name off the record which he convinced me otherwise. I took all of the songs as directed toward me. Things were really messed up at that point. I don’t think I was in contact with anybody from Coalesce, for more than a brief encounter here or there, for at least a year and a half, maybe more.
GORDON CONRAD: I tried to emphasize to Jes that he had created something that would transcend the scant few years that the band had existed—because at that time, it looked like they were done, forever. The Casket Lottery was taking off, Sean was a family man, it really looked like the band was done. I felt like it was important for each of them individually to look beyond the acrimony and realize what they had created. And know that they should at least be proud, if not realize that they had made music for the ages that would inspire, that would influence, and shape the things to come. As tumultuous as the band’s existence was, and as polarizing as their opinions and music were, they were always the hardest on themselves. Always.
SEAN INGRAM: I was really angry at Jes at that time. I remember him calling me very sober and had the impression that the lyrics were written to hurt him and confronted me about it directly. I remember the line in one of the songs about ‘learning the big words to come off strong’ in particular from ‘While the Jackass Operation Spins Its Wheels.’ I can honestly say that I did not write any songs about Jes. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t want to or even tried to express my anger about our situation, but they never came out and I don’t think I would be able to forgive myself if I had. Instead I wrote about my neighborhood, my family, the Internet [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: I think I was more confused half the time, than I was angry. I couldn’t figure out what had really made things so intense. Although I was a major contributor to the dysfunctionality of Coalesce’s relational dynamic, I was by no means the sole cause of its dissolution in 1999. I’ve always experienced some sort of ambiguous while yet total blame for Coalesce’s turmoil that I’ve likewise always wanted to challenge.
2000 – 2002: WHAT HAPPENS ON THE ROAD ALWAYS COMES HOME
Despite the most recent (and worst) breakup, the band still owed an album to Relapse. In response, Steineger wrote the majority of 012: Revolution in Just Listening while staying at his grandfather’s house. At no point during the recording were the band in the studio together. They delivered 30 minutes of music to the label, which begrudgingly put it out as an EP. Ingram started a screen-printing business, Steineger committed himself to the Orthodox Christian faith and academic pursuits, Ellis went on to enjoy success in the Casket Lottery, and Dewees likewise in the Get-Up Kids and his solo project, Reggie and the Full Effect. Coalesce found new life on the internet, as kids talked about the records they had left behind and the legend of their live shows grew.
Ingram filled in the vocal slot for the Dillinger Escape Plan during their 2001 Krazyfest gig in Louisville, Kentucky. The experience significantly whetted his appetite to get back onstage, so in 2002 he reactivated Coalesce without Steineger, replacing him with Cory White. At the end of the tour, Hilt announced via the web that Coalesce was over, without conferring with the others. Nobody took umbrage.
SEAN INGRAM: I totally tricked myself into thinking, ‘Wow there are several hundred people on the Internet that want to see this band live.’ That was before you knew that the Internet was a place for entertainment and for people to sharpen their wit. But I got this idea in my head.
JAMES DEWEES: I called Sean and said we should do a Coalesce tour. I had been on tour for a year solid with Get Up Kids and I had some time off and I wanted to do something from Get Up Kids and Reggie.
NATHAN ELLIS: James and Sean called me and Stacy and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to get together and talk about doing Coalesce again.’ To me, the thought never crossed my mind that Jes would not be involved. Stacy and I got excited and we went to dinner. But when Sean and James proposed the idea of me playing guitar and Stacy playing bass, I bowed out. Because to me, Coalesce has always been Jes and Sean. You can not replace one of those two dudes, the formula is not the same. I didn’t want to insult those guys. I understood that Sean and James wanted to go out and do it. I just didn’t want anything to do with that recipe. No chance.
JAMES DEWEES: Jes is such a solid person. But to say, ‘It’s not the same without Jes,’ well of course it’s not the same! We didn’t get it back together to have it be the same. It wasn’t ‘Coalesce,’ but we played Coalesce songs. It was more or less just for fun, just to play the songs again. I don’t see why anyone should take it personally.
SEAN INGRAM: We invited Nate to be a part of it. But Cory [White] filled in for Jes instead.
CORY WHITE: I had seen them like twenty times but had never met them. I was a fan. The singer for my band, The Esoteric, told Sean that I knew all their songs and they should jam with me. I recorded myself playing along with their CDs on Pro-Tools and gave it to them. And we went on tour.
SEAN INGRAM: After all the bad blood, we were going to go out and have a good time and enjoy all the things we never got to enjoy—like being able to eat and being able to get to the next show.
JAMES DEWEES: It was the one tour we made money on. And we completed it!
SPENCER BENAVIDES: That was really awkward because Jes is as much of a part of that band, everything about them, it was pretty much Jes and Sean. They were the guys everybody kept their eyes on live.
JES STEINEGER: I really don’t know what to make of the 2002 thing. There are certain aspects of it that we feel the repercussions of from time to time, but in general, it came and it went. Sean had his reasons for doing it. The few things I have seen from that stint definitely seem foreign to the Coalesce that I know, so it was a bit estranging, for sure; like seeing some dude kissing on an old girlfriend, even though you were the one who originally broke up; or worse, kissing on her in a sloppy and reckless fashion.
CORY WHITE: When I saw Coalesce, Jes would break everything and not really play. It was just this spiritual invocation. It was intense! When I joined the band, I said I could just break everything too, and that’d be badass, but that’d just be ripping off Jes. And these were big clubs with big P.A.s. I’m sure I didn’t have his blessing when we played. I’ve never met him. But it was just that Sean wanted to go out and play again.
STACY HILT: At the time, because I had walked away from Coalesce like I did, I felt like I had never gotten to say goodbye to the people who had let us sleep on their floors. I needed closure. I was going through a lot of confusion in my life. That’s what the 2002 tour was for me.
SPENCER BENAVIDES: It was the first time, and a lot of people said this, that Coalesce sounded exactly like their CDs. And it was weird that he looked a little like Jes, and it was weird that he acted a little like Jes. I mean, he pulled it off really well. But it was still awkward. There was something wrong about it.
JES STEINEGER: The night Sean did the first 2002 show at the Bottleneck, I was working at a bank not far from there. These kids kept yelling “Coalesce!” from the front door as they’d leave, and “Yeah man, Jesus is the way!” I had a distancing realization during the 2002 revival of coalesce as I semi-watched it all from a distance. I was taking classes toward my BA when all that went down, and one of my co-workers scanned the internet daily looking for some sort of dirt he could throw my way. One day, he located an interview with Sean and Stacy by a local newspaper. There was a point when comments were made that I never played the songs ‘right’ after they were recorded. My live performances were imprecise and incorrect. Another rendition of this appraisal was to the effect that it was disappointing to never ‘hear’ the riffs live. Now these claims never hurt me, unlike the various attacks on my work ethic, but they were so extremely estranging. It was a blunt and powerful recognition that my rendition of and intention for what Coalesce was supposed to be weren’t shared by at least two of the members that constituted coalesce in the past. And, worse, it wasn’t some minor or marginal aspect of my rendition or intention: it was the central point of the entire event for me. Such a contrast really alienated me from the camaraderie and unified vision I had assumed we all had.
NATHAN ELLIS: What Jes brought to the table could not be duplicated. Coalesce was just not a guitar riff, and it most definitely was not a Mesa Boogie guitar sound either. The whole dynamic that made Coalesce what it was had nothing to do with how technically proficient you were about playing the riff. It was all about energy and power. It never felt like a metal band to me because we were not concerned about heavy distortion or playing tight. It was all about feeling it and being as loud, energetically, as possible.
STACY HILT: There was talk of doing another record again, and we recorded a few really horrible tracks—and that’s no slight on Cory’s talent, he’s an amazing musician—but it didn’t feel like Coalesce anymore. It had become a joke. It had become a mockery of itself.
SEAN INGRAM: I would consider anything I did or said in 2002 a mistake on the basis that as an artist you can not do or write or make things based on wanting to fulfill the wants of kids on the Internet. You can’t do that. It’s dishonest. It didn’t feel right. We were playing on big stages and being paid well! But we are a VFW, play-on-the-floor-band. You know what I mean? Everything was wrong about it. Me and James were thinking we had all the pieces in order, people who wanted to do the band, but of course the real reason was Jes was missing. We were a cover band without him when you get down to it. It embarrasses me to this day.
JAMES DEWEES: I don’t think it was a negative thing to do. In this band, there have been a lot of negative things done, but that’s what makes Coalesce, you know, Coalesce. That has always been the beauty and brilliance of Coalesce. It takes eight wrongs to make a right. And we were all kids!
STACY HILT: The other guys would go out and party all night. And Sean and I would go down to the local Mexican restaurant and have a couple of Coronas and nachos and say, ‘What are we doing out here?’ We became the old men of the band. We were like, ‘Why are we still doing this to ourselves?’ The first half of the tour was amazing on the East Coast, our guarantees were unbelievable. I felt like, ‘Wow, this is what it feels like to be on a successful tour’ for the first time. I could let down my guard and have fun. But what haunted me in the back of my mind, even as I was relaxing and having a good time with my friends, I looked across the stage and saw someone who looked like Jes, moved like Jes, but I didn’t have that connection with. To this day, I hold Jes in such high esteem that everything I do musically and personally I think, ‘Would Jes approve of it?’
JAMES DEWEES: I had a good time on the tour. But of course, I was the one out all night partying [laughs]. All I had to do was show up, set up my drums, and play. For being my age today and being a musician on the road and making money, I had a fucking good time! [Laughs]
JES STEINEGER: I think Sean is a little harder on himself on this issue than he should be. I mean, he did what he thought was right. In many ways, I wish he would have seen it my way, that the thing didn’t ever need an official end or capitulation to people asking for more. Coalesce is not a commodity that someone orders more of, and then we get to the assembly line so as to assuage him. It’s the dynamic of a certain set of people doing something that they like. Making a very historically specific and no less peculiar music together.
STACY HILT: When Sean and I came to the decision to end it in 2002, I ended it really abruptly. I had been getting emails from people and people on the Coalesce message board asking me when the album was coming out. One day I made a post saying there is not going to be another Coalesce record, at least not with me in it. I said I had my closure and I’m no longer coming to grip with those demons anymore. I felt like I had proved all I had to. It was a disappointment that I didn’t get to end it with Jes, but I did get my closure. I think I wasn’t invited because I told Sean I was done. What’s funny though is that I did tell him I would only ever do it again if Jes was involved. But I was never able to say my goodbyes with Jes. I’m cool with them doing the Coalesce thing right now, but at the same time, I kind of felt hurt that I didn’t get that opportunity with Jes.
2005 – Present: THEY ARE THIS
Ingram would regularly receive reunion show offers via e-mail and quickly delete them. In 2005, representatives from the respected underground music even Hellfest approached him with an offer to reactivate the band. Ingram forwarded it to the other members expecting it to be disregarded. Steineger received the email from Dan Askew. The band saw each other close to a week later at Ellis’ daughter’s birthday party and decided to do the show. Due to extensive commitments, Dewees was unable to take part, which provided the opportunity for the addition of drummer Nathan “Jr.” Richardson. Hellfest was ultimately canceled altogether; ironically, Coalesce kept going.
Not surprisingly, their plans for the future are as fluid as Steineger’s live performances. A “final” show took place in 2005, only to be followed by announcements of a new DVD release, No Business in this Business, a new 7”, Salt and Passage, and a brief summer tour in August of 2007. Despite the actualization of these announcements, fans who follow both Ingram’s blog and the band’s official site have learned not to take any announcements as gospel. The band—Ingram, Steineger, Ellis, and new addition, Nathan Richardson—claim to be “writing new material,” but one thing remains certain: Coalesce will, as always, follow the (off-time) beat of their own drum.
NATHAN “JR.” RICHARDSON: James is doing his own thing, he’s always doing a million different things. A few months ago I saw him on Jay Leno with My Chemical Romance and I had no idea he was even doing that! Being part of the incestual family of the Kansas City scene, I was kind of an obvious choice being so close to the band. It was in 2005, the summer, and I was playing in Appleseed Cast. They asked me to be in Coalesce. I freaked out! I thought it was too good to be true, just like what we’re doing now.
SEAN INGRAM: When we started writing again recently, we’re approaching it as adults, as fathers and grownups, seeing how good it is now and how right it is now further illustrates to us how wrong it was in 2002. And Nate knew it! Little jerk [laughs]. But he didn’t put it like that. We were enjoying the kind of popularity that Botch is enjoying right now. But we wanted to do it, but it shouldn’t have been done. Now, I am out of control of this band, I’ll say that first. I am not telling them what we need to do. Now it’s up to all of us to sift through all 15 emails and make a decision [laughs].
JES STEINEGER: I can email riffs as I come up with them, along with the tab. Free long distance on cell phones allows us to talk more about ideas. It’s a completely different world than all those years ago.
SEAN INGRAM: And now nobody cares about money, or about record labels. And the fact that Jes has been pressing his creativity on guitar. We’re still writing even now. The enthusiasm is there. And we know what the ground rules are. Other than death, car wrecks, or black eyes, we’ve been through everything a band can go through. We know what works , what doesn’t, what to let go and what to hold on to the hardest.
JAMES DEWEES: I’m really stoked that they are touring again now but it just sucks that I’m on tour at the same time and I can’t go to any of the shows! Which blows. I’d love to see Jes play again!
NATHAN “JR.” RICHARDSON: The way I look at Coalesce now, it’s four guys who have definitely gone through their demons of being on the road and being in bands. A lot of bands are just going through the motions, it just becomes a chore. And that’s why I quit touring a year ago. There are ten kids between the four of us, Sean and I both own businesses, Jes is starting his Ph.D., it’s four guys who have been through it but still love playing music and are doing it for the right reasons: because we want to.
NATHAN ELLIS: I remember going to see Isis and telling Aaron Turner that Jes would never do anything with Coalesce again. And it’s so awesome that I was wrong on that! We’re all older and wiser now. Having the opportunity to make creative music with these guys again is the most important thing. Nobody thought about “making it” the first time around, but at least this time, it’s all a hobby now and we know it.
JES STEINEGER: In terms of sound, Coalesce has no set direction at this point. We’re just fishing in the boat, riding the wave to see where it takes us until we have to get back to shore and tend to the cares of lives. I really like how Salt and Passage has turned out, so I’m hoping things continue to be this free.
ED ROSE: Nate “Jr.” is a big change. He did an amazing job [on the new recording]. He’s somewhere between James and Jim Redd. He’s technically really good and he’s also really creative. Everything was really relaxed during the whole process. Everybody was just enjoying it. They were excited to see each other, as they don’t get to see each other very often. It was a recording session-slash-fun reunion.
SEAN INGRAM: The band comes and goes. That’s how it’s always been. After we do this, it may be a couple years again. We’re not going to put nails in the coffin. As Jes said, it doesn’t need an ‘official end’, and I see that now.
FRANK IERO: If you can’t hear the influence of Coalesce on today’s music scene, you’re just plain dumb. At times it’s as easy as listening for the high pitched chord that is in every modern day hardcore/ metal breakdown song. It’s the chord that killed hardcore. Bands don’t even know who they are paying homage to when they do it nowadays, it’s kind of sad. But that’s not the only part of Coalesce that spilled over. It was the band’s stage performance. It was their approach to the music that in my eyes affected the music scene. There were no boundaries and like I said before, no apologies — except for when James Dewees throws his floor tom into the crowd and knocks your girlfriend unconscious. Then you get a free t-shirt and an ‘I’m sorry’.No comments