We sat down with self-proclaimed “Post-Pop Punk” band The Comfort Shame and discussed the band’s establishment, creative process, and future plans.
Jasmine Jones & Alyssa Mattei
Earlier this year, The Comfort Shame broke the door down into the Connecticut music scene by releasing two E.P’s by the end of the summer. Self-proclaimed “Post-Pop Punk” band, their catchy melodies hinge on nostalgically narrative lyrics to create immersive, tuneful storytelling. An exploration of the complexities of human emotion, coming-of-age, relationships, and personal introspection, E.P.s Campfire Mistakes and Midsummer present listeners with thematic verses thrummed between perceptive percussion and carefully choreographed chord progressions.
On a calm, and overcast day in Mansfield, Connecticut, I sat down with founder, Harry Walton, and contributing musician, Murphy Jennings. The interview piqued the boys’ passion for creating music, creating an air of contagious enthusiasm for the band and its trajectory as we discussed the band’s establishment, creative process, and future plans.
First off, let’s start with your band name: The Comfort Shame, where did that originate from?
Harry: We were running through a few… I think it was because I brought it to you [Murphy] and said it and you had a completely different reason for liking it to me and that’s when it was like ‘oh, this should stick around.’
Murphy: Yeah, we liked the idea of it. Because there’s a few different ways to take it.
H: Mine was that it was like the thing that I’m very okay with being ashamed of, and it’s weird to have that because shame is the internal feeling of not wanting something, but a lot of people have this thing they keep coming back to being ashamed about and doing it anyways.
M: My thought was kind of, at the time more or less my life was entirely fine; I was working a reasonable amount of hours, I had a place to live, I had food, all that, but I wasn’t comfortable with my life. Like, it wasn’t actually progressing; the shame of your life is entirely fine but you’re like...
Murphy and Harry, simultaneously: Ehhhhhhhh
H: Yikes, same… so it’s a few feelings.
So, you [to Harry] have been in other bands in the past, how does this experience differ? What makes TCS unique?
H: This one, for me at least, I have a little more heart and soul. My last two bands I was in, one was called Will’s Lovers and the Aftermath in high school. That was totally fun, I was with a couple of guys I knew from then but I was 16/17 so I think certainly I had less of a view of anything. And the last one was Shitty Shitty Band.
That is my favorite band name of all time.
H: That was dope. And that one weirdly enough was probably the best one of them in terms of music I’ve ever been a part of but I definitely like the emotional content of this one. That one was super sad. And this one I think is more appropriate: that’s what I think the big difference is. I think I’ve done this with my friends in a way that I’m really happy with and I definitely think that, you know, [I’ve] shared it in a lot of ways and that’s been nice. Murphy’s obviously been this load stone of making this work and so that’s what I’m happy about. I feel like this has been much more of a cooperative process. So yeah, of all the bands I’ve been in, [this one is] definitely the one I’m most emotionally like: yes, this isn’t too sad but it’s also not too rad; it’s just honest. That’s what I like about it. It’s just honest because I think that there is nuance. I think that there are many bands that it’s just like we are Three Days Grace and we are just sad now, a very singular idea drives them. This one has many ideas, because that’s how people are. It’s not like you’re always happy or you’re always sad. Sometimes you’re confused or you’re sleepy or you want tacos, and you broke your foot, and your coach called you a bunch of mean names, and you’re like this is damaging my burgeoning sexuality, why would you do this to me?
M: Which is also a song.
H: Yes, yep, which is also one of our songs [Big Booty Feelings].
Yeah, that sounded familiar.
H: That song is not about a girl. Next question.
"It’s not like you’re always happy or you’re always sad. Sometimes you’re confused or you’re sleepy or you want tacos, and you broke your foot, and your coach called you a bunch of mean names, and you’re like this is damaging my burgeoning sexuality, why would you do this to me?"
Let’s delve into your creative process a bit, starting with the lyrics. Do you just sit down and write them; is it very in the moment of emotion, more nostalgic, or do you just spontaneously stand there with your guitar and scream stuff?
H: When I started out writing lyrics I was very, very influenced by Chance the Rapper’s style, where he went to a lot of open mics and poetry slams and his thing was just writing a lot of poems down, and I was like okay I should get better at poetry. I spent a year at my job with this giant book of poems, I actually have four of them now, where I would just write them down. Some of them stick and some of them wouldn’t. Sometimes I’d just be like talking to Murphy and I’d just be like ‘Oh that would sound good. I think it’s just like trying to remember everything is important. Life’s full of--- that sounds dumb. It’s not, life’s full of pain. So yeah, that’s lyric writing: just write poems, get used to it, write about things you care about. The best songs are really about things we’ve done or been around. A lot of times the funny thing is a lot of people are just like, ‘oh this is just about this person. This is just about this thing.’ No, there’s still some fiction to it. I think that any good lyrical piece needs some fiction; there’s real events but kind of things that carry it. Don’t make it too real or about one person because you’ll be trapped. You’ll be confined by a story. So obviously not everything that happened in our songs happened all at once.
M: Yeah, yeah there was a few that had like actual stories. It’s usually more like moments. Moments are accurate to what happened but the story itself isn’t.
H: Maybe they’re like moments stapled together?
M: Yeah a bit more like that, it’s kind of weird the idea of stapling moments together to get a cohesive idea but it’s kind of what happens.
H: Do you think that’s kinda how thoughts work though? Because there are bands of moments that you probably piece together in your mind as a group part of your emotions… like I think happy and I have these 5 moments. Yonk. Song. Boom.
Now, I think I saw a snapchat of yours that was just a page of math calculations, is that a normal step in the process of creating beats, or is that just something you do?
H: This [recording process] is very ad lib and self taught. So the math parts are, I’ve gotten more into electronic mixing recently and sampling and stuff like that. So on the new album one of the songs, Seventh Station, has a looped F note and then a beat and I had to match the beat to the F note. So I had to shorten the beat so that it’ll fit the notes and that's where the math comes in. A lot of sampling needs to be restructured. But I actually think math is musical, they say... Sometimes it’s just I like justifying the fact that I am a math major; I need that inside me or I’ll die.
"It’s kind of weird the idea of stapling moments together to get a cohesive idea but it’s kind of what happens."
So after you’ve gotten a start on a song, what is your recording process like? I know you play almost all the instruments yourself.
H: The recording process is: one of us will come up with an idea, or we will come up with an idea together, record draft versions, and then take it down to everyone else.
M: Recording can be weird sometimes, especially early on when me and you were each playing a few instruments a piece. I think some of our early songs we each played three instruments.
H: Still a few.
M: We’ve gotten better at trying to make do with less instruments.
H: Yeah [we] cut down on how over the top it is. I also think that the number of drafts has been really important and has stunned me in that 7 or 8 times [we will] just run through it, change it, redo it. So I think that the recording process is so, so, so many iterations of making sure everything is perfect. It's really cool and it's everything you learned in high school about how to write a paper.
M: Yeah, that's a good way to put it… sometimes it's also cool to go back to the first.
H: That’s my favorite part at the end and [you can] listen to the final version versus-
M: What it started with.
H: It makes you feel good I think because you're like, ‘Wow, I did that.’
"We have a song that's just like, in the middle of a party we decided to record it. You can hear one of our friends saying, ‘hey where’d you go?’ and you hear us shutting the door."
What's the difference in the numbers of the music you write vs. the music you record vs. the music you release?
H: Music we write - it’s got to be stupid, stupendous amounts.
M: Especially if you count writing the songs that we do while we are trying to practice actual songs.
H: Sometimes we just bust out a new verse of something else. That's the funny thing, I think in spontaneous moments we go a long way. Just letting loose with what's going on in our heads.
Versus how many you record?
H: We record a lot, I’ve got at least 50 songs.
M: We have got a lot recorded in various steps of recording.
H: There are some that are just me and Murphy hitting a couple notes, yelling, hitting a couple more notes, yelling.
M: Or when we used to record in way too many tracks.
H: Or in the middle of parties, which led to more noise. We have a song that's just like, in the middle of a party we decided to record it. You can hear one of our friends saying, ‘hey where’d you go?’ and you hear us shutting the door. Also as a note, our practice as of now, all of our recorded music you can find on Bandcamp was recorded with one microphone. Single mic. Single computer.
M: Mostly in UConn practice rooms.
Versus how many released?
H: Oh 12, 12 songs, and one of them is half a minute so…
M: And one of them is the acoustic [version].
H: Oh no, that song… So not many, there’s another album coming. It's a lot of the ones that we have written and are good but just have relegated to a back room for now.
So then how do you decide when you have a whole list of songs; how do you pick which ones go on albums?
H: I go into a semi-comatose state and I’ll send out emails to Murphy, Laine [Blummer], and the other collaborators and they’ll be like ‘Okay, Harry.’
M: Usually [it] breaks down to being like 10 o'clock at night and we get a big piece of paper and we write all the songs down on it and we go through the rough drafts, final copies - it’s the full songs and they have all their parts recorded and then we critique each one and then we pick however many we need. Some will get relegated like, ‘okay, maybe not this album,’ or some of them maybe didn't fit together well enough to put them next to each other on our EP.
H: It's a big tone thing there… so that is always my favourite part when me and Murphy and whomever else sit down and we’ll have this stack, one by one we’ll really analyze it, really work at it.
M: It takes forever.
H: It does because you talk: we listen to a song which is at most 5 minutes and then we spend the next twenty minutes talking it over. It’s fun.
M: And maybe listening to parts over and over again… like ‘okay maybe this needs something here’ or has maybe less. Sometimes it’s just balance because usually the recordings is just parts that need to be re-recorded or we need to re-record the whole thing.
H: ...I remember one of the best comments you had was like ‘this doesn’t change enough, you need to put in a more differentiated chorus’ which really helped.
M: Oh yeah. We will have that sometimes or sometimes just the lyrics need rephrasing...because sometimes they’re super choppy.
H: Like, oh what did that mean?
M: Like, Oh Harry I understand those are what you’re trying to convey but maybe use words that-
M: To the beat-
H: Like have a syllable count under twelve,
M: There was one song you did that just had all the five dollar words.
H: Oh I know… yeah, it’s a good process.
You mentioned releasing another album, and you have lots of songs on the table, any other future plans looking ahead for The Comfort Shame?
H: We are getting some new touring hombres so they should be coming through, training them up soon.
M: Yeah, because we need people to play all the instruments because we can’t. I can only play one at a time.
H: We are training people up. I think we are gonna try a tour in December and January going around a place. I’ve got some friends out in the San Francisco bay area, so maybe I’ll go out there. Maybe it's just me alone, maybe it's just me and one other person. We are just going to play some stuff along there because there's a bazillion cities between San Fran and Oakland and Berkeley, Sacramento.
M: You’re gonna drive out?
H: I’m gonna probably drive, it’s gonna suck. And maybe we’ll make some more fans though, I mean come on… But the first tour which is for sure, for sure 90% going to happen, is December/January is going to be east coast. I think the cities we are aiming for are Augusta, Portland, Burlington, Boston, a few in CT obviously, New York, Philly, Baltimore? D.C.? And then we are going to see if we can get all the way down to Durham/Charlottesville. Hopefully. We’ve got another album coming out too of all of the songs we haven’t released yet. It's gonna be great. We’ve spent a lot of time working on it so I’m happy.