Coliseum’s Gift-Giving Anxiety

Music Features

Ryan Patterson doesn’t want to hand you a copy of his new album, Anxiety’s Kiss.

You might’ve gathered this from the title alone, but those two words still strike exposed nerves for Patterson—just saying them, hearing them, explaining them, pressing them on an LP jacket. Of course, the Coliseum frontman would be appreciative if you picked up the LP. But with any luck, that’ll be from the merch stand, the record store or wherever you go to buy mp3s. And while Anxiety’s Kiss is undoubtably a Coliseum effort—an LP that’s adventurous, punk-rooted, forward-thinking—the singer’s stuck with some gifting anxiety with this release in particular. So, please—don’t make him put the LP in your hands. Not with his face on the cover, plastered dead center across the jacket next to his bandmates, bassist Kayhan Vaziri and drummer Carter Wilson. “I have a sense of apprehension about it,” he says by phone.

“I love that personal connection, and I love the idea that someone will look at the record, read the lyrics and connect with the songs,” he says. “But I don’t want to personally be there. That’s too close for comfort for me…It’s like giving a gift—but one with your fuckin’ face, your thoughts, your voice, everything you care about, and everything you’re insecure about—on it.”

That’s his post-recording anxiety, but the all-consuming thoughts that drove Coliseum’s fifth LP were more broad, and those big, life-long questions and observations are peppered across the LP. You’ll see them in Anxiety’s Kiss’ life-sucking seductresses (“Sharp Fangs, Pale Flesh”), its cerebral meditations (“Escape Yr Brain”) and on-the-nose calls for authenticity (“Drums and Amplifiers”). “It’s a thing I’ve been fighting with or infected by the last couple of years,” he says. But the root of this anxiety, these worried meditations on how they live? They’re as old as the band itself.

“It’s weird,” Patterson says. “I was talking to someone about when I started Coliseum in my mid-to-late 20s. [Anxiety] felt like a post-adolescent kind of thing. You’ve grown up, you’re on your own. I wasn’t depressed, per se, but I was in a transition. Now, I almost feel like I’m at another point of transition. This kind of wave of chaos, mentally, infected my life, brain and body. I followed the reality of mortality and existential dread. I’m kind of hoping that it’s just a phase in my late 30s, like it was in my late 20s. I was just thinking, wow, that’s really hopeful. I went through something like that, just 10 years ago.”

But even with emotional transitions aside, fans of Coliseum can expect a revitalized band on LP5, a release that one-ups their well-received 2013 album, Sister Faith. And it’s not hard to see why: the album was recorded with the same lineup that toured behind its last LP—a surprising first for the decade-old Louisville band—and Coliseum recorded again with longtime collaborator J. Robbins in the Magpie Cage, his Baltimore studio. But if Sister Faith was about the trio finding its groove, Anxiety’s Kiss is the propulsion that follows—a forward movement that Patterson, not a year after the release of Sister Faith, didn’t want to lose.

“When I first talked to the guys, like, ‘I want to start writing a new record,’ Sister Faith wasn’t even a year old,” Patterson says. “It was released in 2013, and here I was, spring of 2014, saying, ‘let’s write a new record.’ They were like, ‘what the fuck are you talking about? People are still discovering the last one!’”

But Patterson was right to have that hunch. With Robbins’ studio dialed in just right, the band locked-in after years on the road, there was momentum in this team. Sure, they’d mulled and obsessed over arrangements—the slow-churning “Driver at Dusk” was years in the making. And they’d started, edited and completely scrapped a few tunes. But the spirit of the project was in that chemistry, that speed extended all the way to dinner breaks. “Comedown,” the album’s seventh track, was composed in the time it took Robbins and Patterson to eat a meal.

“There’s this all-vegetarian place in Baltimore, and from the studio it’s a little too far of a walk to go all the time,” Patterson says. “But it’s like a 25-minute walk. Carter had set up a drum kit with four floor toms. Kayhan had a baritone guitar set up through a bunch of pedals. They’re messing around, and [when we got back,] they’re like, ‘We wrote this thing.’ And I was like, ‘We should record it.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, we should demo it for next time.’ And I said, ‘No, we’re in the fucking studio right now. Put up some fuckin’ mics, let’s record this song.’ J. hung up a mic over the drum kit and they recorded it. I just put synth on it, J. played bass on it.”

Emotional peace, band chemistry and existential dread aside, Anxiety’s Kiss is an LP that holds up one of Patterson’s career-long qualities: integrity. Coliseum’s long-running output’s been the chief place for Patterson to reinvest his own feelings and aesthetic into the punk community. And that comes to a breaking point on Anxiety’s Kiss—his sentiment highlighted in blood red on “Drums and Amplifiers,” an on-the-nose anthem about cultivating a B.S.-free community. It’s the album’s most rattling track, one that seems like a knee-jerk reaction to one of punk culture’s most sour notes. “It’s kind of what I want to say a lot of the time,” Patterson says, laughing.

“I’m tired of bands that had such a specific point in time and didn’t age well—not physically or appearance-wise, but musically, they were just fine for that time and place,” he says. “But they pop back up, they reunite, and they don’t give a shit about anything that happens now. There’s so much great happening right now. But the baby boomer generation had this whole idea of idealism and forward thinking, and they pissed it all away, almost all of them. It became nothing, it became corporate culture—reunion culture. They’ll go see these bands play with one original member. It can be the original keyboard player of Jefferson Airplane. They’ll go pay 80 bucks to see them at an arena that’s owned by KFC. We punks, it’s becoming the same thing. It’s disappointing. I certainly think that bands and artists should make money. I want to see them make a living and live comfortably, but I want to see a certain level of integrity and longevity. When you’re constantly obsessing about the past, when you’re obsessed about reunions, that’s when it ruins it. It doesn’t reinvest.”

But that’s Coliseum for you—a band where fans now expect forward movement; thoughtful additions to its punk-leaning catalog; a few honest, and now deeply personal, observations.

So, why’d you be nervous to give that gift?

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