A few months ago, I went to go see SeeYouSpaceCowboy play in Las Vegas during their tour in support of Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware, a raging slab of sass and metalcore-indebted screamo. I was previously familiar with Connie through interviewing her (she also did the excellent artwork for this new Letters to Catalonia release and has done art for many excellent bands, such as Amygdala) but I also hit it off with the rest of the band, especially Jesse Price, who is one of the coolest people I’ve met in DIY, period.
Jesse’s other band, Letters to Catalonia, has been one of my favorite screamo acts in recent years, mainly because they’re actually exciting as hell. Their smart, conscious lyrics are split up in vocals shared among the members, all of whom play some of the most pissed-off music in San Diego since Struggle.
Recently, Letters to Catalonia released their first new material since their demo and split with Illil last year, a collection of songs called Fragmentary. Drawing from the political and melodic spirit of bands like Yaphet Kotto and fusing it with the bone-snapping heaviness of metallic hardcore, Letters have crafted an offering that is as dense and rewarding to listen to as it is brisk and exhilarating. Songs like “Manufacturing Optimism” feature guitar breaks that ooze with mournful bliss and the rhythm section absolutely rips (check out the bass during the bridge of “If I Hear One More…”). It comes highly recommended with the You Don’t Need Maps seal of approval.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jesse about Letters, the whitebelt revival, and radical leftist politics. Even if Letters aren’t your bag musically (although they absolutely should be), I highly recommend reading this interview, because Jesse had some incredibly insightful and thoughtful things to say and was frankly a fun person to interview. Check it! My questions are in bold; Jesse’s answers are in normal font.
Okay. So, first of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this. The new Letters to Catalonia is fantastic. How did this new material come together? It’s definitely a bit more progressive than your previous stuff.
Of course! I’m extremely excited to be doing this. Thank you so much! I’m really stoked on how the songs came out. These songs are about 6 months to a year old, Dom (our bass player) and I wrote them right after we lost our original bass player and drummer. I’m glad to hear that you think that the songs are more progressive. Moving forward after the split i kind of wanted to move away from the “whitebelt” thing a little bit and focus more on just being a screamo band with heavy parts.
Yeah, the whitebelt revival has pretty much reached full fruition this past year and it’s cool to see bands who are kind of doing a “post-whitebelt” thing. I’m definitely picking up on a lot of late 90s/early 2000s metalcore influence, especially Blood and Fire-era Zao. Were there any other particular influences on your current sound?
Yeah I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am all about the whole whitebelt revival thing. Obviously, you know I have another band that I get to use all the silly elements of whitebelt stuff in, so i can get all that stuff out in that band. For Letters, I would definitely say that we take a lot of influence from late 90s/early 00s metalcore, Zao definitely being one of the bands that i love from that era. I’d say that influences for our current sound would be June Paik, Loma Prieta, Republic of Dreams, Ampere, Drop Dead Gorgeous, Jeromes Dream, Orchid, Louise Cyphre, Arsen aka Konig Der Monster, I could go on for a while. But basically a lot of German screamo and metalcore with panic chord breakdowns.
I am absolutely all about that shit. It’s so cool to hear metalcore-infused skramz nowadays, especially after a solid decade of metalcore not being “cool” in the skramz scene.
Oh yeah, I got made fun of so bad for liking that stuff as a kid. Now it’s the “cool” thing to to in the DIY scene. The world is stupid [laughs].
Would you mind giving me a little bit of the history of Letters? You guys have been around for a minute now and are one of the hotter acts to emerge from the San Diego scene in recent years, and I find your name oddly prescient given what’s going on right now politically. How did the band itself come about?
So Letters to Catalonia started after the demise of my old band, Recluse, and PJ’s old band, allmywishes. At first it was just Julian and I (Julian was also in Recluse with me), and we were just super into Ampere, June Paik, and Battle of Wolf 359. We wrote two songs, then PJ started jamming with us and we finished writing and recording the demo. Then we wrote and recorded the split with Ilill and went on a tour to SXSW 2016. On the tour and shortly after, some things in certain band members lives started to come up and long story short, it ended up being me by myself. then Dom joined and we started writing our LP. Once we found a drummer we started practicing and playing shows again. We recorded the three songs on Fragmentary and here we are. I saw somebody made a joke on Facebook the other day about us having perfect timing with the release of Fragmentary because it was the same day that all the stuff in Catalonia started to pop off.
Ha! That is perfect.
I definitely lol’d.
That split with Ilill was one of my favorite screamo records last year. It’s great to hear that the band basically fell apart and reformed with a completely new lineup, and still is able to retain your unique voice.
Obviously, your name is inherently political. Do you consider Letters to be an explicitly political band? If so, has that impacted the way you’ve been received in the scene at all?
Hey thanks! Ilill’s side of that split is amazing. I love that band so much and I’m so bummed they broke up. I’d definitely say we’re an explicitly political band. I think the only difference now is we try to be a little less corny about it [laughs]. Honestly it’s really hard to tell. It may have had something to do with Lars (React with Protest) wanting to put us out. If so, I’m stoked because React with Protest is straight up my favorite “screamo” label.
Yes! React with Protest are fucking amazing. I don’t think y’all are corny about it at all; we need more outspokenly leftist bands in the DIY scene, there’s never enough. How do you put your political beliefs into practice with your band and/or in your personal life?
Thanks! I second guess everything I do so that’s definitely part of why I feel that way. In terms of application in our band I definitely take a lot of influence from European anti-fascist bands. I think the way bands like Fall of Efrafa implement anarchism into their music/art is really cool. Our band is definitely egalitarian in terms of the way we make decisions and write music. We try to play as many benefit shows as possible. I always feel like I fall short with my anarchism because I have to work every day to survive and being in two bands takes a lot of time from me so going out and organizing is difficult, along with my social anxiety with even leaving the house at all. I try my best to not take part in consumerism. I practice intersectionality theory in every facet of life and try to make space for others.
As a fellow anarchist I too have the constant feeling of falling short, and I always have to tell myself that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism and that we are always doing the best we can. I can absolutely see the way that you put intersectionality theory into practice. The best way to fight the system is to keep pushing ourselves to become more independent from it every day and to treat other people the way that we would want them to be treated in the society that we envision.
It’s nearly impossible to live a life that is completely ethical. I’ve never met a single person who lives an entirely ethical life.
Kind of building on that, I wanted to briefly touch on something I’ve noticed. I’m always looking at the way that people interact within music scenes, and it’s always seemed that skramz has one of the most notoriously cliquey mentalities in the entire hardcore scene. Having the wrong opinion can be a death knell in the social circle; in a way, I feel like a lot of people pretend to be better people than they actually are for capital within the scene, and so focus on putting others down in order to avoid the focus being put on themselves and forcing them to self-crit and self-improve. Do you agree with this, and if so, how do you navigate that climate?
I agree 100%. I mostly just try to treat everyone like a person and don’t amount people to their scene credentials. I would like to think that I am very critical of myself and always open to criticism, but I can obviously always be more critical of myself. I think people who act like they’re perfect and are always shifting blame, are the people who won’t stick around in the long run and are only interested in being part of the scene for their own selfish gain.
I absolutely agree, and I find that to be very insightful as well, with regards to using the scene for their own personal gain. With that said, how did you yourself become involved with leftist politics, and DIY and hardcore culture in general?
So I started playing in Hot Topic-core bands around the age of 12 and played that style of music for years. I started getting into hardcore and punk when I was 15 but stayed in the metalcore scene until i was 18. Around that time my friends started to also want to start playing punk, so we started a band and through that band I met a lot of the people in the DIY scene that I’m still very close with. I started getting into leftist politics when I was like 19/20. At first I just dabbled in communist literature because at that point “anarchism” was still just for mohawk mall punks in my mind. Shortly after, my friend and Letters’ original bass player, PJ, was SUPER into anarchism and got me into a lot of anarchist ideas. I think at first I really latched on to anarchism through being vegan.
“Mohawk mall punks” is such a perfect description of the annoying people I hate being conflated with, thank you so much for that description. You brought up veganism. Is being vegan a moral thing for you? I know that to me being vegan just seems like a natural extension of anarchist politics, and most far leftists I know are vegan or vegetarian.
I’d say it’s a moral thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of vegan that thinks people who eat meat are pieces of shit, but I personally don’t want to eat meat or dairy because I think animal cruelty is fucked up, I don’t want to support those industries, and it’s terrible for the environment.
Yeah, absolutely. I think it, like DIY and anarchism, is just a natural ethical conclusion to the way we want to live our lives.
Alright, I think that’s all my questions. Anything else you want to add? Lesser known artists you want to shout out? Trap songs you’ve been bumping lately? Thank you so much for participating again, I really appreciate it!
Our LP should be out early next year, we’re doing a west coast tour with Senza in February/March. Honestly, shout out Senza, they are amazing.
Trap songs I’ve been listening to lately:
I don’t know if [Mykki] is necessarily trap but it’s similar and I’ve been listening to it nonstop.
Of course, this has been great! Thank you for having me!