The universality of punk's spirit and intensity allows it to jump the language barrier and crowd surf all the way to Southeast Asia. Or at least that's what the guys in the Midwestern hardcore outfit Expire discovered during a winter tour that took them from Jakarta, Indonesia to Bangkok, Thailand.
"It was some of the craziest shows I have ever played in my life. There were times I thought [frontman Josh Kelting] was going to die because he got dragged off stage," recalls guitarist Zach Dear. "I've even seen people getting on stage and shoving me out of the way so they can [stage-dive] — I'm playing the song, motherfucker — but you can't even get mad because the look on those kids' faces and the extreme amount of appreciation is something you rarely see in the States anymore. You rarely see a kid who is still sensitive to it."
During their Southeast Asian jaunt, Dear and his bandmates were supporting their full-length debut, last year's Pendulum Swings. The LP follows a couple of seven inches and a demo the quartet released since forming four years ago.
"For any hardcore band that has done seven inches, [doing an album] is a totally different world, and a lot of times bands will break up first or they'll put out a very lackluster LP because they have these ideas for seven inches, and it just doesn't translate," Dear says. "Nine times out of 10 hardcore bands need to stick to seven inches because the attention span of hardcore kids are like the songs. They're these quick, perfect bursts, anywhere from three to six songs, and it's exactly what you need to know everything about the band."
He adds, "We started the band with all intention of never doing an LP, but then again we never started the band thinking we'd go to Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia, so things change."
Pendulum Swings' 12 songs all clock in at less than two minutes, but they're still longer and more developed than past compositions.
The band has always possessed a steely guitar sound and mid-tempo throb that deeply recalls Helmet, and on the latest record, there are several furnace-blast explosions — the Slayer-esque album-closing title track, the menacing heart-bursting pulse of "Anxiety," the spiraling double bass drum rumble of "Abyss." But for every one of those there's a track like the slithering, slightly post-core "Spit Out" or the surprisingly groovy "Pills."
Compared to prior recording situations, Pendulum Swings was a cakewalk for Dear and company. They recorded their first demos at a college studio in Wisconsin late-at-night. Needless to say, they didn't get permission, so the recording sessions were interrupted by hourlong stretches of complete silence to dodge the janitors. But with the new disc, the guys in Expire were finally able to relax during the recording process — the sessions were at a studio in Milwaukee within walking distance of their homes — and it made all the difference.
"It's not as stressful. It's a lot more laid back, and it's what we need," Dear says. "With how much we're gone, the recording process can't be a stressful thing, or we'll just lose our mind."
From the start, Expire has been more driven by the need to tour than record. Part of that's simply the hardcore punk ethos, but it's also Dear's heritage. He grew up in Mason City, Iowa, a town whose only real fame is as the setting for the classic Broadway musical, The Music Man. Dear discovered punk at a local skate shop as a teen, and it empowered him to book shows in the local VFW halls.
That's how he learned the DIY music-biz ropes, and when he started Expire in August 2009, he called in all his favors.
"They'd never heard of Expire. The demo wasn't out. They only knew me and my work ethic. I said put me on a show or book us a show, and if you hate it, you will literally never hear from me again," he says. "That was the first Expire tour, and our first show together was the first day of our first tour."
He adds, "This is a band of road dogs, and that's the way it will end. The day someone in the band says we're done touring is the day the band's done."
Dear and the rest of Expire also just finished a tour with an oddly disparate bill featuring post-core vets Senses Fail, metalcore act For the Fallen Dreams, and religious melodic hardcore band Being as an Ocean. It offered a great chance for Dear and the gang to reach some different fans.
"You get to a point in hardcore where if you don't start branching out, then you plateau. If you don't try to play to new people and expose them to hardcore and what not, then you go from a boil to a simmer," he says. "Some hardcore bands aren't willing to do that. It's not for everybody. But you can't dog us for trying to do something different."