Fiddlehead Go in Deep on Every Track From Death is Nothing to Us

Music Features Fiddlehead
Fiddlehead Go in Deep on Every Track From Death is Nothing to Us

A few weeks ago, Fiddlehead—the post-hardcore band born in Boston—put out their hotly anticipated third album, Death is Nothing to Us, and it immediately became one of their most striking and rewarding releases to date. A convergence of every life the band has lived, Death is Nothing to Us is dense, thoughtful and ambitious—a fulfilling follow-up to 2021’s Between the Richness that speaks to just how much chemistry Patrick Flynn, Alex Henery, Alex Dow, Shawn Costa and Nik Hinsch have together. Born from the foundations of Have Heart, Big Contest, Stand Off and Nuclear Age, Fiddlehead have transcended the novelty of supergroup and just exist as this vessel of immense and worthwhile rock ‘n’ roll.

With their trilogy of tunes about grief, mental illness and outmuscling the depths of loss now complete, we were beyond elated to welcome Flynn into Paste‘s space to give us a vast, deeply reflective tour of Death is Nothing to Us. The fact that he put this all together while on tour in Asia with the band means a whole lot to us, and we hope you will listen to the new record while exploring the behind-the-scenes inspirations, influences and mythologies behind every track on Death is Nothing to Us.

“The Deathlife”
This song is intended to evoke only the most desperate types of thoughts and emotions. I tried to word the songs rather ambiguously so that it could be as universally relatable as possible. “I get depressed, so I do some more.” Some more of what? Drugs? Alcohol? Food? Sex? For me, it’s the vicious cycle of leaning into the weird comfort of being in a state of sadness that I do more and more in an instance of relative despair / pessimism / hopelessness. The strange elation of giving up I suppose. It can feel like a hit.

But, as someone who avoids major physical substances as a coping mechanism, I wanted to ensure that anyone who finds themselves stuck in a downward spiral is able to relate, hence ambiguity. On the same tip of ambiguity, I wanted the “I don’t want anymore” line to be completely open to interpretation. This line can resonate for some in the darkest of dark ways, while simultaneously symbolizing a small act of hope and defiance against life’s big depressing forces.

As for the Jim Carroll quotation “I just want to be pure”—I’ve just always thought of this one in the deepest states of sadness and desperation. For me it’s a wish for the impossible and a confession of unrealistic hope: hope to be free from shame, regret and the universal experience of living with your mistakes. Ultimately, I hope the song comes off as a jolting display of total desperation within a conflicted mind unsure which path to take: a familiar one that goes in a circle or a more unknown one that could lead to total liberation, damnation or somewhere in between.

The music for this song is just so shiny, clean and bright. I remember when we put it together thinking I might have to pour some sadness on this sound, as I’ve always been drawn to the things that don’t fit nicely….open vulnerability in a world of opaque, antiquated ideas of masculinity, clean-cut straight edge in a sea of leather jacket street punks, hardcore music in indie-rock halls, indie-rock music in hardcore halls, etc, etc.

Not that this is such a profound idea or key to fixing anything, I am simply just drawn to contrast and seeing what kind of harmony can come from it. So in the case of this song, sunny and bright, I wanted to put forth some rain and darkness. For example, there is no resolution in this song, which stands out to so much of what I typically write. However, I wanted to explore the idea of just a flat-fall drop to the knees. Whereas the previous song, “The Deathlife,” leaves much open to interpretation, “Sleepyhead” likely does not.

It’s a song about a radically pessimistic person who ultimately chooses to escape the perceived sadness of the world in sleep over the difficult task of facing the world’s challenges and seeking its fire and light, however tiny. Somewhere in this song is a voice of hopeful reason that also, rather tragically I’d say, gives up on the depressive main character, encouraging them to just ‘lay down, stay down and breakdown in your bed.’ To me, when you drown out and drag down the good voices around you in the name of your own self-righteous pity, you set yourself up for ultimate failure, which again, is the vibe I wanted to bring to the table and sit right next to the rather pleasant, “everything is fine” vibe that the music offers.

I suppose, in a way, this song continues the “struggles of a depressive” concept of the previous two songs, drawing one of a few overarching themes that popped up organically as I wrote the lyrics for this record. I find it both worrisome and energizing to be in a world where everyone has the possibility to really express their great sorrows. On one hand I worry about how easy it can be for one to slip into a myopic view of the world wherein their suffering and their suffering alone is of the highest order. Selfishness masquerading as hip buzzwords like “self-love,” green lighting a rugged individualistic culture only the most hyper-capitalistic minds could ever dream of.

On the other hand, I believe every single human must have the freedom and opportunity to express themselves as deeply as they see fit. I think the added value to that is that one can see their own suffering reflected in another’s life and not feel so alone and even develop a bond that further heals the soul. I know I fell into the trap thinking that my great trials with death, grief, family tragedy, incarceration, substance abuse and a resulting deep depression were all there really was the life and my existence in it—only to be rudely awoken in tiny moments in which I truly gazed into the suffering of another’s life in tiny acts of empathy and in turn compassion.

However, not only would it be hackneyed to say that my empathy and compassion for others lifted me out of my personal hell—it would be untrue. Yes, you have lost your child and my heart breaks to a million pieces. But, I still miss my father and fear for close loved ones who can’t seem to stop falling apart.

Yet, what I did gain was a slight sense of togetherness with the world around me and a slow kill of the loneliness that acted as the elixir for all of my woes. It would be too easy to say that this song is simply about the importance of taking another’s perspective, nor would it be true. This is an attempt to accept the fact that we’re always losing in our own little lives, but we should probably allow that to build a greater, more durable connective tissue. Otherwise, we can end up lost, alone and unable to take, lend or even look for a helping hand.

“True Hardcore (II)
I think hardcore is a spirit, not a sound or a social club. You can call it what you want. However, I look to history to find meaning on this topic. So, allow me to begin…

It seems that by 1979, the mid-1970’s explosion of so-called punk music lost its teeth as a real source of counter-cultural attitudes in rock music, losing any real need to call it “punk” rock. When the clubs are only for orderly 18+ crowds, the dress-code is staunchly obeyed & sold by multi-million dollar clothing companies, and the messages don’t seem to scare the powers that be—then, what’s so punk about the music and its surrounding culture?

I remember reading the lyrics of Crass’ Punk is Dead in middle school and having a real hard time fully understanding what was going on because just a few rungs below on my CD deck organizer was an Exploited record claiming Punk’s Not Dead. It wasn’t until I discovered Bad Brains’ Black Dots and heard songs like “Pay to Cum” right up next to “Why’d You Have to Go?”—that I began to understand what Crass was talking about – and why Exploited were kind of lame with their apparent allegiance to a strict mall-punk look and loyalty to a frat-boy alcohol infused lifestyle. So, like Crass—Bad Brains stood out to me, along with Minor Threat, SSD, Black Flag, Negative Approach, DYS, and basically anyone on the Boston Not LA comp. Everything looked pretty desperate in that early 1980’s setting. Most photos of the Boston hardcore bands playing were simply just NOT in clubs, but in halls. Nobody really seemed to have a specific look. You had short hairs, long hairs, leather jackets, straight edge kids, drug addicts, love songs, songs of total fury.

I found all of this to be so compelling because when you really looked at this thing calling itself “hardcore,” you couldn’t put your finger on it. It wasn’t a sound, it was a spirit desperate to express itself, regardless of the setting. No need for fancy clubs or arenas. No need for popularity or fame. Just go. Express yourself. Go.

From what I gather in all my reading and punishing of the old heads from this time period, this really was the initial reason why there was this delineation between “punks” and “hardcore punks”—the latter of the two took the teeth of punk seriously, or hardcore for that matter. And so if hardcore is really an adjective or description of an intense devotion to punk music and its surrounding culture, and so-called “punk” music begins with Iggy, Blondie, Talking Heads, Ramones, Sex Pistols and the Clash—yet continues on with the fury of the Middle Class 7” and Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown, then how can the definition of “hardcore” be reduced to a sound?

If it’s a sound, well then we have some real issues to sort out. What’s the prevailing determining factor of sound? If it’s the popular fast and furious speed of the early 1980’s, then is Judge not a hardcore band? What about Integrity or No Warning? If it’s a sound played without melody, then is 7SECONDS not a hardcore band? Is Title Fight not a hardcore band? Silliness. Obviously this beast we call hardcore and its so-called criteria can’t be reduced to a sound or a look, as the last 40+ years of it have showcased a pretty unbroken historical continuity of a music and culture that is wildly varied and evolving in sound and appearance.

So then, what is hardcore—in my definition? For me, I believe it is a spirit that maintains an ethic of protecting human expression as totally sacred and worth defending from the often suffocating forces brought on by the Goliath features of popular culture that make it so easy to hide yourself and not come as you are in favor of a reflection of what the powers that be would like you to be, so as to serve their interests of whatever materialistic gain they seek. Outside of this, I think it is intensively hard to describe, as it should be. But, surely—when it becomes hard to tell the difference between what people are calling “hardcore” and the asinine artless locker-room world of Woodstock ‘99 and gate-keeping, exclusive country clubs—I think there’s a problem.

Is this too convoluted? Sure, maybe. Am I an idealist? I don’t think so. This thing called hardcore has served as a true compass in my life, guiding me in directions that have helped me hold onto myself and the world around me. So, I am protective of it. This I cannot seem to change.

When I first heard the lyrics to Sebadoh’s True Hardcore, I was struck. Sir Barlow has been around it seems. And not to make an appeal to temporal primacy (i.e. a logical fallacy that the premises of our elders are somehow always right and true simply because they are old), but I do think there is some great wisdom that comes with age and la onger view of time and all of the changes and continuities throughout it. The song to me reads like a poem:

True hardcore is hard to find.
Takes the peaceful-selfish kind
to realize where the power lies in music.
The beauty may be hard to take.
Pray its not the evil fake.
There’s always time to change your mind
and still be very true.

Like evergreen in wintertime
Or elks around, sleeping dying.
True hardcore is forever young.
True hardcore is left undone.

Someone who has always known it.
Someone who has never lost it.
And as the others act so strange,
You’ve had the strength to never change.
I’m still a selfish asshole.

Now, I don’t look to these lyrics as some weird excerpt from the Bible or as legal proof of what hardcore is. I just like how it reminds me that hardcore has the oath-like loyalty to preserving a sense of youth while paradoxically renewing life. This all just seems so in tune with the realities of our existence. Life changes and yet it stays the same. I loved this song so much that I played it on repeat for 20 minutes to about 10,000 people before Have Heart’s reunion set in 2019. I’ve never fully put my finger on the meaning of it, hence why I keep coming back and decided to write my own little version on the subject matter.

So, “True Hardcore (II)” for me is an opportunity to point out the attitudes and behaviors I think destroy this thing that I have found so much pure joy and deep insight from. I wanted to express my gratitude for this thing being somewhat of a refuge for the “deeply depressed” kids of the world trying to find a peaceful way out of the lock that depression can have on you. I also wanted to express my antipathy for the “evil fake” who see the social value that can come from this world of hardcore and pervert it into something like a social club for building status and creating a ranking system of who belongs and does not. All of that just feels like the try-hard bullshit you see in the mainstream world. And, as the great Floorpunch says, it’s not for me.

I appreciate the guys in Fiddlehead for letting me write so candidly and straight forward with little to no typical poetic device. At the time I wrote this song, hardcore did not have the apparent “cool” sticker value that it seems to have right now in the summer of 2023. In fact, a guiding force for writing this song was in response to someone in our circle who seemed to be rather embarrassed by Fiddlehead’s association with hardcore. (Cough. True Loserman. Cough.) but, the fellas in Fiddlehead just said go. Express yourself. That’s all that matters. So, yeah, in my view Fiddlehead is true hardcore.

Call us what you want. Write “True Hardcore (III).” Go. Express yourself. Just let me know if your take on what hardcore is aims to heal the world and I’ll let you know if I agree with your take.

“Welcome to the Situation”
The title of this song came from our bassist Nick Hinsch telling me about some video of Ian Mackaye at a Fugazi show being asked to write a message to a couple’s new baby. According to Nick, Ian just wrote, “Welcome to the situation.” I thought this was hilarious and wanted to remember it forever.

So, I wrote this song really in response to the overwhelming feelings of bringing life into a world that not only features a constant sense of existential dread, but a father who struggles at times to carve out the meaning as quickly and instinctively as other people. I have been known to have my struggles with sadness that at times can turn into bouts of depression, wherein sleep seems like the only remedy for getting by. That’s a kind of shitty situation to just sort of be rammed into. Fiona, my daughter, had no say in her existence really.

When my daughter was born, we were about a year and a half into a pandemic, a year after the historical summer of unrest in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and six months after the infamous January 6th insurrection. I remember looking into my daughter’s eyes one day when I was in a relative state of downtroddenness. I imagined her dealing with this sad shithead of a father for like another 10 years and just sort of screaming to me to stop obsessing with the great tragedies of my life and focus on the larger world around me.

From that point on I have found the bouts of sadness to lessen as this image of my little Fiona plays on repeat in my head, to “get up, get out and go on”.

I have this photo of a teenager at a protest in response to a school shooting. My best friend Ryan took the photo and I had it blown up and framed in my office. It is massive. The child is holding a sign that reads, “Fear Eats the Soul,” I remember the first time seeing it and thinking I needed that as a constant reminder in my life and a message to the children I am raising as they grow up in my house. I think growing up as an army brat and on the outskirts of many social circles, I found myself lacking in the confidence department – and without that one can easily find themselves feeling alone and fearful of the future. Not that I have spent my life wrapped in fear, but it has played a dominant role in my life in terms of the things I’ve wanted to do, but lacked the courage to do so.

So, this song in many ways is kind of a total turning point in the evolving theme of sadness and depression’s command on the soul. Musically it was the most evolved song we had written at that point. I struggled with the “sonic journey” so to speak that it takes you on. The opening is motivating but the verse is sad, the chorus is oddly victorious yet sad and goes into a breakdown that is stark followed by a bridge out of the breakdown which is intensifying and the explosion out of the bridge is wildly triumphant but returns to the victorious yet sad chorus and ends with the explosive triumph.

That’s a wild fuckin’ ride. Writing it was tough for me. I wanted to speak openly and honestly about my woeful ways and how the weight of past familial generations affliction with substance abuse and depression can really press on me, while also the renewal of growing and raising a brand new family can serve as this life force. Ultimately, the song is a massive celebration of life and an encouragement to really seek and build beauty, with as little fear as possible.

“Give It Time”
There is a Wolf Whistle song called “Give It Time.” It might be one of my most favorite little songs I have ever written, as it calls out in a lion’s roar the ways in which the Massachusetts Corrections System intensifies both the violence, mental afflictions and chances of repeating crimes with its less-than progressive rehabilitation policies. I have had the unfortunate experience of having the closest of the close loved one’s deal with this system. This front row seat has exposed me to the unsettling ways in which time can feel like a medieval torture instrument.

Likewise, loved ones trying to overcome afflictions with substance abuse are always dealing with the giant pressure of time and how each day of sobriety is meant to be a marker of some type of achievement. I think of all this and wonder about the absurdity and madness of having to look at every day as some type of potential loss or gain of a trophy. It feels so zero-sum and robs the joy of a day in one’s life being pure and simple.

Nonetheless, within each of the individual days serving as some type of test is the feeling of getting through it. Living in such a zero-sum setting can really fuck with one’s sense of being. So, I wanted to write a song that could speak to this weird and untrue feeling that recovery or release “is just a matter of time”—as if time is a friend, offering you a pillow.

“Queen of Limerick”
I wrote this song to try and obliterate, in its entirety, this idea and apparent instinct that one must hide their low points. No, I do not think our great failures should be romanticized or championed as some fashionable depression chic. However, I do believe that we must create a culture, as a human society, that totally embraces the emotional breakdown as a completely normal feature of the human condition. The alternative is masking our pain, repressing our pain and allowing our pain to call the shots on how we live through our lives.

I’ve read that one of the great warning signs of suicide is a sudden and unexpected burst of happiness and elation on the eve of the person who goes on to commit suicide. The thinking is that the person has finally come to terms with the decision to end their life and the burden of the debate has ended, setting in a sense of relief. I imagine that much of this dark debate takes place internally, without most ever knowing it—for fear of becoming a burden in the eyes of loved ones who may not have the skills or strength to aid the ailing family member stuck with the worst of the worst questions about our existence. How might life be different for those who find themselves questioning the value of their own lives, if they felt it were more than ok to show themselves to the world- however broken, as they are? And how might a culture, who believes it is ok to be broken at times in life, respond to that person? What would that look like? Who might still be here?

Growing up in an Irish-American and Roman-Catholic family, the ancient traditions of keeping one’s pain private were surely kept alive. Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to the story of Dolores O’ Riordan of the Cranberries, who struggled with profound childhood tragedies of abuse and alcoholism-induced depression later on in life, all despite her great commercial success as one of the most prolific singers to come out of Ireland and sing on this earth. She later drowned in her hotel room in what appeared to be an alcohol-related accident.

In the years before she died, she had some public breakdowns. One of which involved her being escorted off of a plane. She allegedly was screaming “Do you know who I am? I am the Queen of Limerick,” as she was dragged off the plane, later to be admitted into a psych-ward where she reportedly sang Cranberries songs by herself in a room, alone.

I think of this story of Dolores and the sad and tragic episodes in my life, watching loved ones struggle in ways you simply don’t want to imagine. I think about her on the plane, declaring openly who she was….a human, made royal by way of her courage to express herself. Then, I think of the typical image of Dolores that I saw on television. The happy and joyous figure singing songs about her family. The mind shifts the lens back to Dolores in the psych-ward, singing those same songs and I see a different type of song. Ode to My Family takes on a different life. Yellow Skies Forever sinks in with less joy, and more weight. Free to Decide suddenly screams out like a cry to the world for some help.

I want to live in a world where one does not have to put on the dog and pony show of joy to appease the so-called regular flow of life. The flow of life for so many of us is the breakdown, and I cannot help but think that all that hiding of the breakdown, keeping it internal—so as to not upset anyone, is the key ingredient for perpetual breakdowns.

I don’t know what that world looks like. But I do know I want to try and get there. And, if that means there will be a little less hollow and feigned joy along the way, then that is ok. I’m fine with that.

“The Woes”
This song feels kind of like the answer to the overarching question of the record. This idea of being seen and to matter to the world is so increasingly fought for in our history as a species and explicitly present in our modern age. Whether it be in art or protest, it’s spilling out right in front of us. But, what does it mean to be seen, and to feel as if one matters in the world?

I don’t have the answer to that. But, I do think there is great love, zeal and meaning in life that washes up when one begins to try to see themselves as a part of life, and not just “in it.” I don’t think one can simply be a “part of life” if they are not coming to know their fellow human being and seeking the ways in which they feel dignified. In recognizing this bond as essential to being a part of life, I do think there is great potential for the grip of death and depression to loosen and become powerless against those of us seeking to truly jump into the act of being a part of life.

I found so much strength and renewal in the lyrics of 108. So, having Kate-0-8 offer her harmony to one of the most triumphant 108 songs was a real special deal. The young, confused and desperate teenager Pat Flynn would never believe it to be so that a member of 108 sang on his band’s song, nor does the older, confident and joyful man that I have become at the age of 38.

I hope this song connects with many of the good people I’ve encountered in my days with this band.

Our bassist Nick Hinsch has basically been in this band since before we wrote Between the Richness, he was with us every step of the way for writing Death is Nothing to Us, and when the very first piece of music he presented to us to work with that he came up with was by far my absolutely favorite songs I have ever written. We wrote the music to this magically. All of us just kept building on top of it and I swear, we wrote it in less than 20 minutes. If I never write another piece of music again I’ll be totally satisfied knowing I had that experience with four fellas I love so deeply.

When things are stacking up in my mind I tend to go with this mantra “Just get by.” I absolutely hate going there. It feels so resigned and defeated. Nonetheless, it seems to be a part of my wiring – to go to this place of seeking just to survive life. However, I would have to be blind and wildly ignorant to not recognize the gold I have in my life, which is my family and friends. Given that this was a song I felt was written so magically, I wanted to write a little direct ode to my friends in this band who have just added so much to my life. In many ways, the great dreams of my life have been afforded to me by way of these guys I call my Ride or Dies.

“Fifteen to Infinity”
As the record continues on, there is the growing sense of hope and joy and acceptance of life’s realities. I wanted to not only continue to evolve this sentiment on the record, but do so in a way that honors the love of my life and how I feel as if the mountain top view is of her by my side. We don’t have much money. We’re both teachers. But, that’s ok. We have each other and we each offer a window into the past of our lives and a sense of security that we’ll be there for each other. That’s gold to me.

“Going to Die”
Continuing the theme of death, acceptance, joy and love—I felt like this song did a nice job at putting a cap on it all, and in many ways, what the band has been about over the past three records. There is a confidence in the music that is uncommon to our songs. To me, that signifies a breakthrough in my life and I wanted to put some lyrics that really spoke to this confidence I have fought hard for since the passing of my father.

I stand today with the confidence of feeling like my father is not lost and that one has the power to rebuild their lives with the right love from both themselves and the good people around them, leaving us all with an obligation to love ourselves and those around us. By all means, you can call that corny, half-baked, superficial. Whatever you want. But it is indeed the result of endless hours of seeking and making meaning of this life.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin