While noble in theory, being first in your field is not easy in the fact that you are ultimately inventing and cultivating your own market place. Released in 2000, Long Island band GlassJaw dropped their major label debut Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence as a rebuttal to the commercialized rap metal sound plaguing the airwaves. With Ross Robinson behind the boards, GlassJaw created a stark, cathartic album – a volatile mixture of bile and beauty rarely encountered in music. But despite laying the blueprint for the post hardcore and ..gulp.. screamo trend that would eventually kill nuMetal and start a virus of its own, the record was a premature baby. A baby that without record label nurture and a voluptuous financial breast the suckle on, was destined to be buried within a short period of time.
The nucleus of GlassJaw was formed in the 1993 after founding members Justin Beck (guitar) and Daryl Palumbo (vocals) met at a summer camp. Palumbo notes “he was 14, I was 13. He was wearing a Bad Brains shirt, I was wearing an Anthrax shirt. He said: “that’s my favorite band” and I said: “no, that’s my favorite band”. In the end, he took the bus home with me. We started playing guitar together. Eventually, [we call ourselves] GlassJaw”. With the band in the teething process – both wet their palettes in straight edge hardcore acts across their native Long Island, New York area. With Palumbo fronting the group XbustedX – Beck cut his teeth playing drums and later guitar with Sons of Abraham – in the process spawning the sound GlassJaw would inherit and perfect with EYEWTKAS. Throughout their 1997 release Termites in His Smile – the tense, rigid guitars and double kick driven drums that are the foundation for the majority of Son’s of Abraham tracks are also carried over into GlassJaw’s 1997 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang EP. Rooted in the New York hardcore scene, the EP was a muddled offering, drowning in ambition and good intention – but failing in delivery. Pieces of ‘Vermont Connection’ show the intelligence and progression that would highlight their future works, but for every part that worked, there was another right round the corner that added a level of complexity that was not needed. But it was this idea of thinking outside the box and Palumbo’s venomously personal vocals that separated GlassJaw from Sons of Abraham’s straightforward approach to the hardcore genre and enticed both Beck and SOA bandmate Todd Weinstock to focus fulltime on GlassJaw. It also attracted the attention of one of the godfathers of nuMetal – Ross Robinson, who gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Originally a musician before turning to production, Robinson has been the defiant factor in the creation of some of the most enduring albums throughout the nuMetal era. An impeccable track record that includes the groundbreaking debuts for both Korn and Slipknot, Ross has also helped Sepultura to achieve critical acclaim with Roots as well as the near impossible task of making Limp Bizkit sound listenable on their 1997 debut 3 Dolla Bill, Y’all$. After turning up to a band practice and hearing the the unhinged vocal stylings of Palumbo entwined with the beastial devistation of the music, Robinson was quick to offer his services to GlassJaw. According to Palumbo “[Robinson] knew that we were hardcore kids that thought the shit he did was a joke. He just started telling people that GlassJaw will be the destroyer of Adidas rock” an ironic and seemingly self-deprecating reference to the bands Robinson had earlier produced. With a man of Robinson’s talent championing the band and sharing a similar distaste for various nuMetal acts who were at their commercial peak during this period – GlassJaw was quick to take Robinson up on his offer and made their way to Indigo Ranch studio in Malibu, California.
Not content on helping the band discover the backbone and intention within their sound, Ross also helped GlassJaw discover the back beat. Knowing the sound he was jonesin’ for, Robinson recruited well know NY hardcore percussionist and friend Sammy Siegler to replace Beck for the EYEWTKAS drum sessions. From the atmospheric drums of ‘When One Eight Becomes Two Zeros’ to a somewhat breakbeat patterns on ‘Her Middle Name Is Boom’ – it is evident that Siegler’s styles (ranging from straight punk hardcore to jazz minimization) was an instrumental factor in GlassJaw expanding their sound from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang . It is also safe to say that, despite the competent drumming on the EP – Sieglar is far more technically proficient percussionist than Beck – and with him behind the kit Beck was able to concentrate on the strings.
Throughout the release, Beck and Weinstock’s guitar work is dipped in high strung and cacophonic tones. With the addition of Beck, the guitar sound is significantly thickened up with painful shards of hardcore splintering the ears throughout the release but highlighted on the bitter one two punch of ‘Lovebites & Razorlines’ and its follow up ‘Hurting & Shoving (she should have let me sleep)’. Showcasing superb chemistry and technical craft, they also dish up macabre melodies with tracks like Siberian Kiss and Piano are a wash with restless plucking and unique time signatures. Bassest Manuel Carrero complements the tracks with aplomb, carrying the tone of the songs and adding elements of distortion to balance out the clean guitar sound. Carrero notes “as far as the sound on EYEWTKAS, I used an old Ampeg Portaflex B-15 or B-12, and a RAT distortion pedal. The Rat cuts out low end, so we used a direct signal in addition to retain the bass frequencies. The pedal was used for a little bit of bite”. When asked how Robinson’s influence affected the band, Palumbo explains ”he didn’t exactly change that much of the music. He made us play so sincerely and honestly that it had a big effect on how good the music came out. It’s much more impactful”. Production wise, Robinson keeps the music tight and precise to juxtapose with the loose and seemingly stream of conscious vocal delivery.
Robinson’s success points to the fact he doesn’t provide production so much as ‘therapy’. Explaining his methods, Ross notes “It could be the silliest lyric but there’s always something that’s so sweet, so perfect – the feeling behind it. Say if you’re singing about something you really don’t like or somebody who did something to you. It always leads back to, ‘I want them to love me.’” With Palumbo’s vitriolic vocals stemming from the most intimate and introspective details of his life – Robinson had the perfect ingredients to create a succulent but bitter humble pie.
Lyrically, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence is the showcase of a tortured man on a journey through the downward spiral. While Palumbo’s lyrics have been bastardized and the source of millions of adolescent myspace and facebook status updates since EYEWTKAS release, at the time the brutally poetic honesty was a breath of fresh air. Unlike the self depreciating Jon Davis or Fred Durst frat boy lyrical style, Palumbo’s isolated, intelligent autobiographical tales based upon his battles with Crohn’s disease and the cold chill of rejection were powerful and personal.
Highlighting the segregation that resulted from his on going home in a hospital bed, the title track is disturbing in its frosty reality. Lines like “I’m the matador of the children’s ward” and “It’s a cold, having just been mugged feeling” paint a grey, sterilized and deeply depressing picture. With his fragile body and mind state, Palumbo spends the rest of the release lashing out like a wounded animal, carving weapons out of words as evident in the frenzied and at times overbearing amount of misogyny and gun talk throughout the release. From the bullet riddled ‘Siberian Kiss’ to the “suck on the end of this dick that cums lead” firearm fellatio on ‘Lovebites & Razorlines’ – EYEWTKAS is riddled with enough lyrical ammunition to make 50 cent blush. But emotional lyrics are meaningless without a potent delivery, and it’s Palumbo voice that benefited most from Robinson’s therapy sessions.
Vocal wise – Robinson caught lightning in the bottle with the EYEWTKAS. Palumbo’s verbals are morbid, demonic and strikingly beautiful, creating the rawest and most authentic vocal performances caught on a Ross Robinson record – which is no mean feat considering his work with Davis, Taylor and even Chino Moreno. Coming across as a mixture of Jeff Buckley and Diamanda Galas – Palumbo uses the booth as a place to exorcise his demons and past regrets. Tracks likes ‘Pretty Lush’ and ‘Lovebites & Razorlines’ are deeply cut with ostensibly unedited, spontaneous vocal melodies and tormented screams that are layered upon each other. Sounding at times like the harsh end of a manic episode, it treads the fine line between grotesque and incredibly catchy. The bile inducing climax of the title track is another highlight with the listener able to feel the pain and rawness in Palumbo’s voice as he howls “this is what it’s like to be alone” and then struggles to catch his breath as the track fades to black.
Released May 9th 2000, initial reviews of EYEWTKAS were mixed at best with a lot of publications trying to critique it in the context the musical climate of the time (Alternative Press for example rated it the lowest marks possible and brand it as “rap rock”) and the reputation for person behind the boards. When asked about the press Palumbo spitted bluntly “fuck any journalists who review our record with a preconceived notion of what we sound like just because Ross Robinson produced our record. Wake the fuck up and realize that both us and Ross and us could not care less and be more distanced from rap metal and false metal”. But the press would not be the only ones to shun GlassJaw due to their ties with Ross Robinson – with their label Roadrunner shoving instead of pushing the album. From a 1999 issue of Australian Musician, Ross explained “I have an imprint label deal with [Roadrunner], where I find bands that I really like, and get to produce them with no heat from a record company. They trust me to do exactly what I’m doing, and I’m very grateful to be able to do it that way. With Roadrunner there will be no bullshit, and I can instantly get a band signed without having to shop them”. Unfortunately for the band though, shortly after the release of EYEWTKAS, Robinson decided to part ways with Roadrunner and sign a multi-year agreement with Virgin Records America – leaving the band to fend for their selves. Initially, the band remained positive about their relationship with Roadrunner in spite of Robinsons defection with Palumbo stating “Everything is great with us and label. No one will be making an example out of us out of spite. That is absolutely ludicrous. Relations between everyone involved with that situation are cool”. But as the band headed out to tour the album, feelings became frosty as the band was put on ice by the label.
The tour cycle for the release was marred by a series of issues that led to the departure of the band from the label and the near demise of the band. In the beginning, Roadrunner was reluctant to place the band on tours or offer the band monetary support for tours the band were able to set up themselves – limiting the exposure of the music to be heard, a chance for GlassJaw to build an audience and an opportunity to help recoup studio costs. Ironically, it was when the band finally got on tour when the relationship hit breaking point with Palumbo relapsing with a damaging bout of Crohn’s disease. It has been alleged from various sources (but not confirmed) that Roadrunner would not allow Palumbo to leave the tour to recover from his potential fatal issue. With their careers going down the toilet faster than Palumbo’s bowel movements, Robinson came back into the picture to offer the group a lifeline.
“We were going to break up because of how much we hated [being on] Roadrunner” explaines Palumbo. “But we decided to write [2002’s follow up album Worship & Tribute) just in case. Luckily Ross, our boy, brought us out and we signed with Warner Bros”. After the split from the label, the band was much more candid in their contempt towards Roadrunner. Palumbo spewed “Roadrunner was a joke, a fuckin’ joke of a label. They are a miserable fuckin’ corporation that does not bend for their bands, does not give their bands anything and they’re just terrible businessmen. They are a giant joke of a label. They had 2 cash cows, Slipknot and Nickelback, and every other project they had rode back seat to those bands, and then the second that the new Slipknot record came out and didn’t go quadruple Platinum in the first few hours it was released they fuckin’ turned their backs on Slipknot. That label just wants instant gratification where it sells its units and that’s a joke. You can’t run a major corporation with that as your business strategy”. After the release of the follow up album, the band turned their back on the EYEWTKAS material – reluctant to play tracks in live settings in spite of giving it advertisement for Roadrunner and even going so far as to tell audiences to download the album off pirated sites to hurt sales of the album. This resentment has continued to fester over time with the March 2009 Roadrunner re-release of EYEWTKAS - coinciding with the commercial peak of the post hardcore music trend that was popular at the time. In response, guitarist Beck was quoted in Alternative Press as saying “It’s complete shit! We had nothing to do with it. Do not buy it! It’s embarrassing” – again willing to hurt his own pockets as long as it hurt Roadrunners in the process.
Walking the road less traveled, the band’s fortunes varied greatly throughout the noughties to the present day. The follow up and final full length release, Worship & Tribute was critically well received and again viewed as an influential album within the post hardcore genre but unfortunately the tours for the album were fraught with cancelled dates due to Palumbos ongoing health concerns. Throughout the following decade, the band have been an enigma, taking an extended hiatus so Palumbo could focus on his pop orientated side project Head Automatica and Beck establishing the successful merchandise company Merch Direct. With only Beck and Palumbo remaining from the EYEWTKAS era, a reincarnated GlassJaw came in and out of the public eye, releasing EPs and a series of hard to get 7 inches – always teasing but never delivering the true follow up to Worship & Tribute.
Due to the influential quality of their debut – GlassJaw is in the rare minority of groups who have been able to weather the storm and gain a healthy cult following despite being a casualty of record label setbacks. Riddled with grief and with one of the most personally raw vocal performances ever put to tape – Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Silence is the soundtrack for the black hearted and betrayed.