Potsdam’s punky mathcore stalwarts Sunflo’er release all these darlings and now me on Dark Trail Records any minute now. It’s the band’s first record since 2018, and first with frisky new vocalist Jeff Lyszczarz. The radicalized vocals aren’t the only welcome change here though, as the band explores darker, denser shades of hardcore than ever before.
In fact, whereas the band’s previous output was heavily influenced by metalcore, Sunflo’ers latest perhaps doubles down on the elements that made them unique. You can still point to broader, post-southern hardcore influences like Every Time I Die and He is Legend, but all these darlings and now me breathes new life into a brand of brattiness we’ve been missing for a while.
As Lyszczarz brutalizes the immortal lyrics of Uncle Kracker in “straight to vhs,” it all starts to make sense. We thought we’d hit up the guys for a chat and see if they’d answer a few questions to free our souls and drift away, and they were happy to oblige. Check it out for yourself below.
FB: Obviously there’s a lot of common ground in the hardcore territories when it comes to Sunflo’ers general sound, but there are some cool chords and modulations in there as well. What’s the musical background of the band like?
Jeff: My family is pretty… not musical? My sister got me Slipknot’s S/T and (System of a Down‘s) Toxicity when I was 8 though, so that was cool; I think that was really the catalyst for my interest in heavy music. When I was 14 me and some friends were experimenting with weed and hanging out at one of their cousin’s house, his cousin had this weird ass roommate who showed us Mr. Bungle, The Locust, Psyopus, Dillinger, etc., so i think that really pushed the goalposts for me cause up to that point we were just listening to a lot of Taking Back Sunday lmao. At 16 i told a friend that i “totally knew how to scream” cause her friends were looking for a vocalist, and here i am.
Jim: I played bass in my High School’s jazz and concert band. Took all the music theory classes offered as well. The local college we would all graduate from, except Jeff, was associated with a music school. So I did all the music courses offered to non-majors through college. Campus band and Advanced Music Theory for non-majors. Outside of that I started playing in death metal bands in high school which lead me to joining Ethan and Carter early on through our original vocalist. He booked shows and really liked my bands before this. The only hardcore I was really into was the few bands people told me to check out, what caught my attention staying up late watching Headbanger’s Ball and the bands that came through our area. Weird to think that I was initially hesitant to join the rest of the guys, in what would eventually become Sunflo’er, because it was more hardcore than I ever saw myself being a part of at the time. But eventually joined because the early songs they were working on clearly had more room to expand than had I stuck to just playing death metal.
Ethan: I definitely am coming from a place of more straight-forward hardcore and metalcore. When I first got into heavy music, I was listening to bands like Poison the Well and Every Time I Die, and I still steal shit from their catalogue. I find myself gravitating to bands like Dangers, Converge, and Cursed and though I don’t know if we could ever pull it off, I’d very much like to rip off Circle Takes the Square someday.
Carter: I was going to audition for music school on guitar until I realized I enjoyed playing Dream Theater more than Bach. While I had a conceptual understanding of modes and modulations as a teen, my understanding of harmony was severely stunted without me realizing and I’ve been playing catch-up since. Everyone in the band has been a great sport about me bringing weird chord changes to the table and that’s allowed me to better explore and understand music as a whole.
FB: What was recording with the legend Urian Hackney? How did you guys meet?
Jeff: I hadn’t met Urian prior to recording, and tbh i was kinda mind blown to find out he was the dude drumming for The Armed. Recording with him was a fantastic experience and he made the whole process super easy for everyone.
Jim: It was fun and great working with him! Gave me a lot of great suggestions and advice in the moment to make my bass parts better and I will definitely keep them in mind when writing in the future. We knew of him from playing some shows with his old band back around 2010. The pandemic forced us to figure out how we were gonna record this new record and Ethan reconnected with Urian after doing an interview with him.
Ethan: I had been following Urian for a while and watching his studio evolve on Instagram. I did an interview with him for my job at a radio station, and really loved the sound he was getting and his ethos. We had recorded our last two albums with our buddy Topon Das (Noise Salvation Records, Fuck the Facts), but the pandemic made that really challenging, so we had to start looking elsewhere. When we were reviewing our options, Carter suggested heading over to Burlington to record with Urian and it ended up being a really great fit. He was super accommodating and patient and had great ideas on how to get the best sound for the new set of songs. We actually had played with one of Urian’s bands (Alive and Well) back when our band first started in 2010, but our paths haven’t really crossed since then, strangely.
Carter: All Ethan’s legwork. Though I’d say the A Band Called Death documentary played a small role. Ethan and I were watching it around 2015 and realized, “Holy shit, that’s the drummer from Alive and Well!” It was hard not to be curious what Urian and Rough Francis were up to after that.
FB: What’s got you most excited about the new album?
Jeff: Being able to tell my high school chorus teacher that when he said i wouldn’t amount to anything, he was absolutely right
Jim: Moving forward with Jeff leading us vocally.
Ethan: I know I’ve never been fully comfortable either on drums or on vocals. I feel better playing these new songs than I’ve ever felt about anything else we’ve done in the last 12 years. On the one hand, it feels great to just be able to finally put out this music that we’ve been stressing over for the last 2 years and to move on. On the other hand, there’s a newfound confidence with adding Jeff to the mix. I think Carter’s playing is the best it’s ever been, same for Jim, and I like what I’ve contributed basically for the first time. So much of these last few years have been absolute dogshit, but if there’s any silver lining it’s that we were able to put together music that feels good to listen to.
Carter: The amount of sick mathcore bands on the scene right now is astounding and humbling. This record has a vibe and tonality that feels unique to us and adds to that international conversation without trying to compete with anyone.
FB: It feels like No Hell came out in a different era in a number of ways. Musically or otherwise, how has the band dealt with a rapidly changing world over the last five years?
Jeff: in the last 5 years i saw sunflo’er play for the first time, played a few shows with them, got their lyrics tattooed on me, went with them on their last tour as their “photographer”, and somehow after all that was asked to play with them. i came into the writing process a few months late, and with covid in full swing at that point it kind of really sucked for like… most of that. i think this last writing cycle really prepared me for the next since i work on the road and live 3 hours away from the rest of the guys, so posting riffs in an online folder helps to an extent.
Jim: This time around we didn’t have a consistent practice space so we had to make the switch to a mostly online approach to writing. Which was really difficult for me to transition to with not having the internet. Instead just using my phone as a hotspot when I needed it. And my job never, and couldn’t, switch to remote work. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with everything going on and the uncertainty of it all. That it was just really hard to look over all the ideas being posted up and not feel really stressed out. Hoping instead for it all to be over sooner than later so we could go back to getting together in person consistently like before. But over time I became more comfortable with it and knowing that I needed to. With things becoming more digital I’d start to record videos of bands live not only to help document the local scene but to also keep myself busy on my computer so it wouldn’t be such a strain working on ideas online in the future.
Ethan: Every time we make music it’s just the product of where our lives are, right? I know for me, the last two albums I’ve been in a pretty fucked up place and just trying to deal with it in as healthy a way as possible. Before we recorded NO HELL, my mentor, the poet Maurice Kenny, had passed away and I was trying to cope with that loss. Then right before we started writing this record, my dad passed away, and then a few months into the process, the pandemic hit. I think we had been talking about maybe writing enough material for an EP and then going on tour again, but with those plans shelved and our practice space gone, we started mostly writing and sharing riffs on google drive, which we had done before, but most of our writing in the past really just came out of playing together. In a lot of ways, I think the restrictions and change of landscape improved our writing. As for how we’ve dealt with a rapidly changing world, I don’t know. The band has been one of the few constants for all of us for over a decade, and I think we’re all just doing the best we can.
Carter: These five years have been infinitely long and bad. I began and quit a high school teaching career. While we live in New York, the North Country is largely unsympathetic to the struggles of racial minorities and the impoverished. The need to escape through music and compose more personally meaningful songs has been one result.
FB: Just curious here, but what’s the inspiration behind “Cryptfucker?”
Jeff: Fear of death? maybe an appreciation and respect for it? i’m always really conflicted on what inspired lyrics cause i usually write them at 3am after hitting The Pen too many times, so my state of mind is really all over the place.
Jim: Lyrically I don’t know. Instrumentally just wanting a fun song to “rock out” to. I think we chose it as the first single because of that. For the music video I’d been holding onto an idea of doing a kind of parody of the “Say Cheese and Die” episode of Goosebumps. Knowing that Jeff is so well known for his photography I thought that would be a perfect way to put something fun out as an introduction to him being our new vocalist.
Ethan: As a word, it’s just something that made us laugh. As a song, I don’t fuckin’ know. The beginning was something that I had written but very slow and plodding; Carter wisely said we should just play it faster, and then most of the song came together in an afternoon. Most of what we do really takes fucking forever to put together, but this one was relatively painless. As a music video, Jim had the idea that we should copy the concept from “Say Cheese and Die,” a Goosebumps episode, because Jeff is such an avid photographer and I think because he wanted to put me in a wig since I’ve been bald since age 12.
Carter: I was listening to II by Cursed a lot when we wrote that song and I think that was the only real tangible inspiration on my end. I just wanted a song that had a real cruisin’ feel but also some fat fuckin’ odd-meter riffs.
FB: Mathcore has a lot of hidden gems, with bands often releasing multiple records before ever getting much attention. Any mathcore bands in NY you think people are sleeping on?
Jeff: NYS is really strange, there’s a lot of bands but you really have to look hard to find stuff that operates outside of hardcore music and like… jam bands. A lot of the super crazy bands i saw in the area stopped playing a decade ago but there’s still some rad shit. Herjaza, Crisis Actor/HUSH, Bungler, Stone Thrower, Concrete, Fed Ash, THIN, and Hallucination Realized are all really sick current bands; and back in the day you had The Viking, Crashing Funerals, Israfel, Dialysis, BLEAK, Marateck, Cattle Drums, Falling For Daylight…
Jim: While more mathcore-adjacent I really like the kind of progressive technical death metal of Inertia from Buffalo. As well as the mathy grind of THIN from NYC. And for a more mathcore band I’d say D.B. Cooper from the Albany area.
Ethan: Beyond just NY and the mathcore label, any of the bands that we recently played with in Chicago at IndexFest are worth listening to. In particular the bands that blew me away there were Future Trash and Frail Body, though again, you could argue against that mathcore label. Our friends in fallfiftyfeet and Under the Pier are doing some really interesting stuff. We’re about to go on tour with Dreamwell from RI, so give them money, too!
Carter: Johnny Booth, Cattle Drums, Fed Ash, False Pockets, D.B. Cooper, Crisis Actor… Cattle Drums is no longer active but their last release, Sorta is the Best We’re Doin, is S-tier material. Vocalist Sam was the drummer for Monster Machismo, which everyone reading this already adores or is about to adore. Cattle Drums’ guitarist Gulab did the “Cryptfucker” video and I was over the moon about it. That band and Johnny Booth have been huge inspirations to work harder and push our creative limits.
FB: The first time I played in Brooklyn, it was my first time in NY, and at first, I hated everything about it. But then, after our show, Ex Mothers’ took us to The Glove, a legendary apartment showcase and I quickly took back all the negativity. Do you think that house/apartment/pop-up shows are important to underground music in NY?
Jeff: I think I’ve been to like 3 house shows and all of them were in the last 2 years lmao (please don’t do the math for that).
Jim: Definitely. Especially in the smaller more rural areas of New York. A lot of the time, especially in our area, local spaces don’t really go for hosting punk/metal bands but rather stick to cover/jam bands as a safer bet to appeal to a more general audience and to sell more alcohol.
Ethan: We have been so lucky to meet a ton of folks who were more than happy to take us into their homes for shows. I’d say for a long time, house shows were what we preferred to do here in Potsdam. People playing weird shit don’t always have good public spaces to put it on display, so house shows become a safe haven for that. It can be hard to be vulnerable on stage, so I think that some of the pressure can come off when you’re in an environment where everyone’s just there to have fun and so much of the artifice isn’t a concern.
Carter: In rural places like Potsdam the practice sometimes feels like a necessity. There are remarkably few venues that will host a show that isn’t covers or jam music or a combination of those two. One time a show we put on got shut down because the owner had tenants upstairs and they were pissed (shouts out to Bleak). Like, how do you not account for that as a business owner? House shows have been a way of life for us for a while and that’s fine with me. We played a doublewide in Boone that some members of Basilica had built a stage in, and that shit was awesome.
Man, it really sounds like we got to get to the East Coast again. As you can tell from our chat, the US’ East Coast is filled to the brim, if now downright overflowing with mathematical music and talent.