I was recently caught in a heated discussion about how important I feel it is for online publications to share new music to their readers —even if it isn’t in the form of a fleshed out review— in an oppressive era of algorithm-based discovery. Lists, playlists, or simply sharing an artist picture or album cover on social media can also be the way someone finds the right music, especially in a time where there will never be enough time or people to do a deep-dive into every new release. I didn’t bring it up during that argument, but I’m actually indebted to Bandcamp’s Instagram feed for discovering the band this week’s Weekly Featured Artist is all about.
Back in 2021, a younger me was casually scrolling through Instagram when I came upon some really striking album artwork posted by Bandcamp. In the foreground of the image stands a young woman with free-flowing orange hair and a bronze circle around her head which could either be a hat or a halo; there’s a pristine look on her face and her hand draped across her chest hangs with a hallowed tenseness. Then again, there’s a cabin in the background, so who knows! In any case, that cover art (by Chelsea Bernhardt) transfixed me, as did the post’s caption: Cowboy Music by Cerce. I had no clue what I would find on the other side (is that how the internet works?) of the link, but I knew I really wanted to find out. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, I adored what I heard —and I say ‘somewhat unsurprisingly’ because I’ve always thought you’re better off judging an album by its cover than a book. Pummelling drums, dynamic rhythms, dark guitars, explosive songs, and the unapologetically feminine and brutal wails of vocalist Becca Cadalzo, this was the hardcore punk record I didn’t know I was in desperate need of at the time.
I listened to Cowboy Music excessively during the rest of 2021, and I’ve closely followed the band’s socials since, enjoying quite a few Q&A’s and the dry wit of whoever runs their Twitter account. So, when it came to decide who I wanted to write my first Weekly Featured Artist article about, Cerce were the first band that came to mind; it felt natural, considering I had already spent the last two and a half years spreading the good word to anyone who’d listen. So I wrote them, they wrote back, and they very kindly answered a series of simple questions that had been on my mind for a while.
Cerce originally formed in Boston in 2011, before live-fast-die-younging and breaking up in 2013. But they released a remastered collection of their complete discography in 2017 and reformed the following year, releasing Cowboy Music in 2021. I was curious about how they started, how they restarted and what changed between those two beginnings. Zach Weeks (bass, vocals), whom I wrote back and forth with via email, had the following to say:
‘We were just friends who wanted to start a band for fun. We didn’t have any other goals other than making music we enjoyed. The band was originally supposed to be a pretty low-key endeavor. We were asked by a band that has since broken up to play their final shows in 2018 (which didn’t go down as planned), and we had all reconnected and healed any personal wounds the year prior.’
Regarding the changes to their creative process and the decision to write new music, Zach, Becca and Patrick Talesfore, Jr. (drums) shared the following:
Zach: ‘When we were active from 2011 to 2013, we all lived in Boston and rehearsed at least twice a week, so we churned out a lot of material in a very short amount of time. Currently, there is a lot of geographical distance between the band members (California, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia) so we have to do a lot of preliminary writing by sending demo ideas back and forth over email. We then meet up in person to work out and finalize ideas in the studio.
‘Initially, we had no intentions of doing anything more after our 2018 reunion shows. However, the enjoyable time we had together kept our text message thread active, leading to us deciding it would be cool to link up and try to write new material in person in late 2019. The experience turned out to be enjoyable, so we proceeded with recording the album Cowboy Music in early 2020 and have played a few shows since then when the timing was right.’
Patrick: ‘From a technical standpoint, our writing process has been pretty consistent from the start. We’re all really big fans of ‘themes’ and usually instrumentally our songs are a theme that develops over the course of a minute or so and then we let Becca do whatever she wants cuz she’s so legendary.’
Becca: ‘Thanks Big Pat! And yea, I just freak what I feel. I write when I can’t sleep and then put those lyrics to instrumentals later on.’
Patrick’s words made me appreciate consciously one of the reasons I adore the band’s music: their songs feel extremely satisfying, extremely rewarding, and that might be musically down to the themes he mentions. They set up expectations at the beginning of each song and, whether it lasts 30 seconds or 4 minutes, they deliver on them, during the unraveling and the climax; they don’t hold back, they deliver musical catharsis to their listeners. It also helps that they’re such a tight unit, whether they’re in the middle of a breakdown or switching up the groove dangerously; perhaps that is the ‘cowboy beat’, as Patrick put it; ‘boom boom’. Regardless of how truly excellent the instrumental aspect of Cerce’s music is, it just would not reach the same heights for me if it weren’t for Becca’s unbridled vocal delivery, as well as her dark and biting lyrics. On Cowboy Music, there’s an underlying horror theme that is most apparent on songs like “Bats” or “Ghosts”, but is ever-present throughout the album, each song unraveling in the same grim and grotesque conceptual space, and I absolutely adore it!. Patrick went on the record and said, ‘we are a horror punk band and we love the Misfits’, while Becca shared that these horror-infused lyrics were brought about by dealing with PTSD and reading Edgar Allan Poe.
If any of the above seemed appealing to you, please go and give the band a chance. Even if it didn’t, go check them out, they’re truly stellar and Cowboy Music is one of my top 20 albums. If that still doesn’t convince you, the band members all seem like the nicest people, and you wouldn’t want to ignore the art made by the nicest of people, would you? They’re so nice, they shared an extensive list of things they wanted to give a shoutout to: Space Camp, RONG, canteenkilla, Mercet, Bronze Vases, babyfang, Edgar Allan Poe, Pink Navel, Speakeasy Print Shop, Fuming Mouth, Kirsten Dunst (F.F.O.: The Criterion Collection 4K remaster of The Virgin Suicides), D’Addario (s/o Andy Pitcher), Yamaha Guitar Group (s/o Scott Marceau), THE BOX Studio in Burlington VT, Dying Down, Derogatory, Initiate, Space Devil Rest in Peace, Charlie Puth, OFFICIAL DRUM COVERS, NCMAC, Lady Gaga, Chelsea Bernhardt (@scvrletchild on Instagram) who has done most of our artwork since reuniting, God City Studio and God City Instruments, High Voltage Punk Shop, BIG TEX TATTOOS, Alex Pickert, Anthony Picarelli, The Infinity Ring, New Forms, Roses in the Snow by Emmylou Harris, Electronic Audio Experiments, DANGERS, Alex Garcia-Rivera, New Friends DIY, BLINDGIRLS, Rough Francis, The Armed, Big Dig Records, Residency Records, probably way more we love our friends.
Currently, the band are ‘active enough’ (Patrick) with a ‘pretty active group chat’ (Zac Suskevich), though who knows what that means in regards to new music. I like the mystery. Currently, Patrick plays mostly improvised music and in pickup bands in the Bay Area, and just started his own band called #FREEJAZZHOUSEPARTY ‘that does originals as well as tunes from the avant-garde, spiritual, and free jazz canon’; Zac Suskevich is in a band called Blow with Anthony Picarelli, who drew the artwork for Cerce’s first release, Teen Bible. Meanwhile, Zach works on other people’s music (alongside Kurt Ballou at God City Studio as staff engineer) so doesn’t have time for anything else.
Band photos by Nick DiNatale