Interview by: Ally Fisher
Words by: Ally Fisher
Just over a decade ago, the Seattle-based alternative rockers of Acceptance released their debut album Phantoms; an album that would creatively and musically define early 2000s alt-rock, as well as become a highly respected inspiration for the next generation of hopeless musicians. A few years ago, 2015 to be exact, the band reunited to continue the legacy that had dismantled far too abruptly and this year, have released their highly anticipated follow up album. Upon album announcement and release, questions and discussions amongst bloggers, critics and even fellow musicians ran rampant about the band’s evolution and decision to reconvene their once empty place in the scene. Here at Highlight, we were a part of that mixed conglomeration of individuals dying to know all that we could, so we chatted with bassist Ryan Zwiefelhofer about all things Acceptance and their new album Colliding by Design via Rise Records. Check out the full interview below and let us know what you think of the band’s newest addition to their discography!
The biggest elephant in the room is the fact that it’s been 12 years since you all put out an album and in 2015, nearly a decade had passed before the revival of Acceptance and the release of a teaser single called “Take You Away,” how has it been these past two years to be back in the scene as a band again?
It’s be an awesome, awesome ride so far and keeps getting better. A lot has changed in the landscape and with the members of the band, but since revitalizing a few years ago, we’ve just been so thankful to have the opportunity to be doing what we’re doing.
While you guys were split, Phantoms continued to gain popularity and solidarity as a “cult classic” alternative album, were you all aware of how significant the album had become?
I don’t think anyone really was except Christian to a degree. As he was trekking out all across the world with Anberlin he would continually be approached by folks who were fans of Acceptance and Phantoms specifically, no matter where he was. I’d see him every time they’d roll through Seattle during those years, and, naturally, we’d start talking a little bit about the “old days” with Acceptance. He’d always mention that a lot of people still cared about the band, but I don’t think I believed him, or I guess I didn’t really want to believe him, if that makes sense. I think when we hung it up in 2006, there was a definite feeling of “definite”, you know? We walked away, and for me, I wanted to walk far away.
Is it a bit surreal?
So, yeah… Fast forward to 2015, and we all came face up to this reality of Phantoms’ growth while we were gone. To actually see how tangible that was, whether on Twitter or other places online when we announced, or to see our first shows sell out so quickly, was simply staggering. One of the first things we talked about when deciding if we should get together for some shows was around whether or not people still cared, and I can’t tell you how surreal it was to see the amount of care and support we had and continue to have.
I know fans and musicians that grew with Phantoms were ecstatic to hear you guys were back, but how was the reaction from bands you all grew and even toured with during the early 2000s such as Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday, etc.?
Actually, the conversations we’ve had with those guys from the old school have been some the best we’ve had since coming back. We’re all in similar places in life now, with families, other careers, and the balancing act of maintaining normal life and music. The YC guys for sure have been so wildly supportive and encouraging, and the TBS team is like hanging out with long lost friends. I think the bands that ran the 2000s (those guys, not us, haha) and down to the bands that supported that entire scene (that’s more our speed) created something special in time, and I think all of us that were a part of that scene cherish it and acknowledge each other with a lot of love and respect. At least that has been my impression. Like, “we take care of our own”.
Ha, no it is not, is it? Poor, poor print advertising. You know, I think we’ve adapted well. There are some savvy cats in this band, and I think we knew that the digital space was going to be vital for us and sustaining longevity and new music today. Christian brought with him a more detailed view of the industry and maintaining presence from Anberlin, which was such a blessing, and we all have day-to-day careers and experience that help keep us agile. For instance, I work in digital marketing here in Seattle, and Jason is the general manager of a Lexus car dealership. I think we’ve been able to collectively use our different skills and knowledge to embrace the “new way” of life for the band. In a lot of ways, social and the digital space absolutely compliment one of the core beliefs and functions of this band, and I mean connecting with and reaching to people. Our music is a continuation of this fundamental thing we have with the human condition and making the world a better place, and social has allowed us to better talk and connect with the folks who are with us in that effort.
In the time you guys had apart, the majority continued on with music by joining other bands or were on the opposite spectrum and quit the industry completely, however, during that time, you all have seen the evolution of alternative music to what it is today, has that evolution influenced the sound we hear on Colliding By Design?
You know, we’ve heard some people say, “oh, they are just doing what’s popular now…”, and on the other side of that coin, we’ve heard people express love for our more modern sound on Colliding [by Design], but we honestly went backwards in time with our influence and reference for this record. We spent a lot of time watching older movies we loved and listening to a swath of music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that moved us. And it’s not that we each live in a vacuum, but the 5 guys in this band aren’t exactly the best at being “up” on what’s going on in the alternative scene now, haha. We really just wanted to create that feeling or expression you get when you connect with a song that moves you in some direction, so we looked back on our own experiences with older generations of songs quite a bit.
The album maintains that classic, guitar-heavy, Acceptance sound just a bit more polished and with notable synths and an atmospheric pulse throughout.
Thank you! We really wanted to hone in on the idea of landscape and color with this record, so we found that expanding some synth and guitar tones was a challenge but also served our needs perfectly. We continually pushed ourselves in new and interesting directions throughout the entire process.
I’m sure the maturity and growth you all experienced also heavily influenced the lyricism on the album, but how did you confine nearly ten years of life into one album?
Jason has this way of listening to the music we write and capturing the direction he’s moved by it. The last decade or so has shown a lot of valleys and peaks for each of us in the band, and probably more so for Jay. And I think you see that story play out lyrically in the record, like how he and the rest of us have arrived at where we are. There’s a real positivity and grasping of life in these songs. I love how he approached the record lyrically, and I think we all helped capture that story with music that set the tone and landscape.
With all of you living separate lives (all across the nation) what was the recording process like for the new album? Was it all done individually or did you all find time to record as a group?
To be honest, it was an absolute mess at times… Navigating lives with families and careers and distance only allowed us so much actual studio time with the whole band. A lot of the record was recorded individually in a lot of weird places. No kidding, probably 80% of Kaylan’s guitar tracks were recorded in his kitchen or neighbor’s RV. He lives next door to Bobby Darling (Gatsby’s), so they would set up Bobby’s protools rig wherever and just lay stuff down. Tracks and demos would fly across the internet between us at incredible velocity. Text threads about the smallest guitar parts or synth sounds would last days on end. Dropbox probably almost crashed because of collective input. Haha, it was a crazy, crazy process. Thank the Gods for Aaron Sprinkle who had the time, foresight, and utter genius in keeping this whole thing together.
We’ve been overwhelmed with the response. It was daunting, given how much people care for Phantoms and the band. We knew we were going in a different direction, and we knew that that could make folks apprehensive. But, I think we stayed honest with ourselves and stuck to our vision. There was a lot of integrity with how we approached the record and believed in it. We’re just so thankful people are giving it a chance and are enjoying it. There will always be those who are disappointed that they didn’t get another Phantoms, and we’re thankful for that sentiment too because it means that they honestly care about the band and music. I do believe a majority of the feeling about the record is that it was a solid evolution of the band from Phantoms. And that is so awesome to us.
Here at Highlight, we like to focus on positivity so what would you guys say has been the ‘highlight’ of your career so far?
Honestly, just having the opportunity to be back around each other again these last few years has been something I’ll never forget. We’re a unique group of guys with a lot of different philosophies and personalities, and what has been absolutely beautiful to me is how it all comes together whenever we’re around each other. We’ve founded this whole damn thing on love, connection, and making the world a better place wherever we can, so my highlight is absolutely being here with those guys right now doing what we set out to do a long time ago.
Lastly, what can we expect in the future from Acceptance? (Hopefully not another break-up anytime soon!)
Haha, nah, I think we’re here for a bit. Having too much fun not to stick around for a while, you know? There’ll be more music (we’re already setting up shop for the next “thing”, but you didn’t hear that from me…) and more opportunities to see us live. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to head overseas some more and visit those good people in far off lands that we haven’t had the chance of meeting yet. We’re just getting warmed up. ️