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Soot throws spirited aggression in the face of “pandemic angst”

The Madison punk duo discuss their self-titled debut release.

Liam Casey and Cal Lamore have both earned a positive reputation through their respective work in a couple of Madison’s heavier punk acts in recent years. Casey plays guitar in hard-hitting psych-punk act Treatment, while Lamore fronts the more wiry post-hardcore-adjacent Hex House. Together, they form Soot, a new duo that recently released a pulverizing self-titled debut album. Casey takes the helm on initial songwriting while Lamore operates as a one-man rhythm section, each member keenly attuned to the impulses of the other, allowing the project to come off as preternaturally focused.

Soot is a relentlessly anxious affair, allowing it to stand as a product of the circumstances that led to its creation. Only three of the record’s 11 songs pass the two-minute mark, setting a breathless pace that’s matched by a sense of urgent, unchecked aggression. “Meat Legs,” “Illuminati Song,” and “IV” are all abrasive, sub-60-second atomic blasts that effectively demonstrate Soot’s penchant for consistently imbuing brief moments with sheer, outsize force. In around 16 minutes total, Soot contends with a pervasive sense of dread, an increasingly pessimistic worldview, and the struggles that have come to accompany daily existence for just about anyone navigating the pandemic.

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Where Soot and Soot differentiate themselves from their contemporaries is in an intangible resilience that becomes more evident as the record progresses. The narrative Soot presents is inextricably intertwined with the pandemic. But the music itself feels, oddly, both reactionary and liberating, whether that’s the frantic, desperate chanting of “Illuminati Song” or the propulsive, Meat Wave-esque riffs of “Deprivation Center.” There’s an unavoidable immediacy throughout Soot, which is full of concise blasts of grunge-leaning proto-punk that would fit snugly somewhere between Thee Oh Sees’ most feral work and scuzzy Iowa punk act The Tanks.

Tackling everything from the illuminati (“Illuminati Song”) to a notorious Madison busker (“Bring Me The Head Of Art Paul”), Soot has no qualms about seizing the unexpected. Casey says that when he was writing Soot, “the music and lyrics came almost simultaneously,” which fits one of the record’s most defining qualities: emphasizing primordial impact. Stemming from a previously abandoned demo Casey had put together, the songs here simmer and seethe, benefiting from a loosely improvisational tactic the duo incorporated while tracking the record. All of those elements working together to underscore an evident commitment to rawness and wild-eyed instinct. 

Soot is available on Bandcamp and all proceeds will be donated to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund. Casey and Lamore spoke with Tone Madison about the band’s origins and their public debut.

Tone Madison: Since this is a Madison-focused publication, let’s start at the last track: How did “Bring Me The Head Of Art Paul Schlosser” wind up with its title?

Liam Casey: The Art Paul title is honestly because I’m a fan. There’s a number of artists that have influenced me with song titles [featuring the phrase] “Bring Me the Head of…” (Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Bring Me The Head Of Paul McCartney On Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg” and Charlie Megira’s “Bring Me The Head Of The Deckhand Boy”). I love Art Paul.

Tone Madison: Was Soot a direct result of the restrictions of this pandemic, or was the project something you previously discussed before the shutdowns?

Liam Casey: I wouldn’t say that Soot is a direct result of the pandemic, but it definitely pushed us into doing something we’ve been talking about for like five years. Cal and I have played in projects together in the past [including The Ferns] and known each other for quite a while. We’ve been talking about making a record forever.

Cal Lamore: I’d agree with Liam that we always talked about doing a project just the two of us. When Liam floated the idea of these songs, I was just like, “yeah, let’s get together for a day and do it.” The pandemic just seemed to feed into the desire to make something and put it out there. At a time everything seemed—and does seem—hopeless, people are still making art, working, and trying to maintain their lives. Liam’s really the only friend I’ve spent any time with since March. And doing something “productive” together seemed of great value.

Tone Madison: How much of the material on Soot came after the project was solidified and how much of it had predated the band’s conception?

Liam Casey: Almost all the songs were mostly constructed by me before we solidified a plan to make a record. “Maelstrom” was actually a song I wrote two years ago for my band, Treatment. The vibe just didn’t work for us so I’ve just had this demo sitting around that I really loved. “III” “IV” “VI” are entirely improvised by Cal and I. The record was also mostly recorded live, with guitar and drums being tracked. So we kind of allowed ourselves to build the songs more while recording.

Cal Lamore: I had heard all the songs twice. We played though them so Liam could show me the chords and structure. And then the album really came together the day we recorded it. We’d do a few takes live—drums, guitar and vocals—until we got a keeper, then Liam would do overdubs. I then took the album home and recorded the bass and mixed it in my living room. I feel like Liam had been collecting the songs, and the idea of actually making a band/recording project out of it happened quickly.

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Tone Madison: Both of you have played music in your own respective projects for years. Were the tendencies you developed in those bands something you were conscious of in approaching the songwriting for this project?

Liam Casey: I would say you could probably draw similarities between this and other projects we’ve been in. It wasn’t necessarily something we were conscious of.

Cal Lamore: I agree that I don’t think we were consciously thinking about our other projects. Liam and I have such a large pool of overlapping influences that it just worked. And since we were both working in different roles musically, with Liam doing basically all the songwriting and singing and myself on drums and bass, I think we naturally pulled from some influences that may not be so apparent in our other bands.

Tone Madison: Collectively, this record feels like an accurate reflection of the wide-reaching anxiety 2020’s managed to make all but omnipresent, yet Soot still manages to hit these notes of catharsis. Did you find leaning into that uncertainty to be freeing or was sitting with some of these concepts a little more mentally taxing?

Liam Casey: Yeah, I would say it was freeing. It felt good to put it out. I heard someone use the phrase “pandemic angst” recently. That’s kind of the vibe behind the record. I suppose there were a few songs I had to re-assess because of the content in them. I definitely wanted to capture the way I’ve been feeling about certain things while being both subtle and direct. It wasn’t taxing though. It felt like a music workout and it was so rewarding and fun.

Cal Lamore: Yeah, freeing for sure. Like I mentioned earlier, it just felt good to make something and put it out there. Especially when it feels simultaneously like everything and nothing matters, it’s as good a time as any to make a record in a shed. And I’m such a fan of what Liam makes, it was really great to work on together.

Tone Madison: What drew you to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund as the beneficiary for this release?

Liam Casey: While I was waiting for Cal to finish mixing, the shooting of Jacob Blake happened in Kenosha. I had been talking to my friend a lot, who is also an artist, and she had been selling commissions to donate to BLM causes. I thought that was a great way to do it when you have little money. I wanted to donate to something that was benefiting protestors being jailed in Kenosha and had seen that the Milwaukee Freedom Fund was exactly that.

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