“Everything in my life revolves around this,” says Ross Farrar, discussing his Bay Area hardcore group Ceremony. “This thing started in a tiny upstairs room at Jake [Casarotti]’s house in Rohnert Park. This was originally a side project. I’m sort of defined by this band now.”
The current members of the group — Anthony Anzaldo on guitar, Andy Nelson on bass and Val Saucedo on drums (who is replacing Jake Casarotti) — all have their lives defined by the band because they spend 60 per cent of their lives on the road touring. Since forming in 2005, the hardcore punk outfit released Violence Violence (Malfunction), Still Nothing Moves You (Bridge 9) and Rohnert Park (Bridge 9) before signing to Matador — the home of Cat Power, Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth and Fucked Up — in 2011.
Ceremony had carved a name for themselves in the punk rock subculture with cynical lyrics, heavy blasts of guitar and steadfast drums. Their shows were empathic messes of boy rage: fast and brutal hardcore. The angry, confused teenagers had a band they could connect with and Farrar was just nerdy enough to be the frontman they could all relate to. Farrar swung himself into the crowd, ripped off his clothes, danced with the microphone stand while his bandmates put on an equally raw and intense performance. They abused their instruments and the kids ate it up.
After signing with Matador, Ceremony released their fourth studio album, Zoo, earlier this year. Zoo showed a drastic change in the band’s sound, shaping songs with a cleaner, rock ’n’ roll approach to melody. They ditched the 1-2-3-4-go approach to punk and grew, but the process remained organic.
“We went into the studio to write a new record and Zoo is what came out,” says Farrar. “I think people want there to be this great scheme behind writing music and they want it to be on par with writing an epic or something. The material on Zoo is less cynical, more to do with being a human and trying to deal with that basic universal truth.”
Some fans freaked out. They discussed Ceremony’s sonic transformation over message boards and comment threads. As usual, fans personally invest in their icons with passionate devotion. It’s unhealthy to put so much stock in someone you do not know face-to-face, but it’s the nature of idolization. One kid even penned, “I don’t think Ross is in Ceremony the same way that Ceremony fans want him to be in Ceremony.”
“I don’t know what Ceremony fans want me to be or even think I am,” Farrar says with a sigh. He knows that much of his fan base thinks that Ceremony has gotten too soft. “If you stop liking something because you think it doesn’t fit a certain genre any longer then maybe you deserve to not like it. Maybe the subliminal opinion gods are actually taking away your right to think freely.”
Despite some fan’s critiques, the crowds at Ceremony’s live shows have yet to thin out. Ceremony concerts are packed events, energetic, raw and filled with screaming fans. Earlier this summer, I joined Ceremony on tour with my band, and was constantly in awe of the front row of kids shouting along with Farrar like it was their last day alive.
“You don’t know how you affect other people’s lives until you’re put into situations like that. It doesn’t hit you until they are screaming at you,” says Farrar of his fans’ devotion. “When I was younger I wrote about hating the world, hating people and smashing shit, but now it’s more to do with coping and coming of age.”
Ceremony shows no sign of slowing down. They are currently on tour with British indie band Bloc Party, and at the end of October they will switch gears and embark on another jaunt with Titus Andronicus that will last until Christmas. After a split second of much needed downtime, Ceremony will head back to the studio to record another record. They may not always play traditional, angry-kid punk like they did nearly a decade ago, but their devotion to music is still undeniably hardcore.