Tuesday, April 30, 2019


By 2006 Achilles was on a tear.  They had toured quite a bit, become a point of pride within the Rochester community, and all things seemed to be going well for them.  They were getting ready to record their next full length, and had been writing music for it.  But a number of factors were coming into play that would signal that the active days of the band were coming to a close.  However, they did not know, going into the recording of the album, that this would be the end of a chapter.  That was communicated to me later on, but I had enough faith in the guys that not touring on the record would not affect my decision of whether to put it out or not.  I knew it would be good.
The varying factors that became major obstacles for the band to remain as active came for three of the members.  First off, guitarist Rob Antonucci was starting a family.  The guy knows his priorities and knew band stuff would have to become far less in the foreground with a kid on the way.  To date, he is probably the coolest dad I can think of.  Secondly, drummer Chris Browne was becoming way more active with his side band Polar Bear Club, who he played guitar for.  They were getting considerable recognition and in demand.  They began touring pretty heavily, partially based on the decision to put Achilles on the back burner.  And, eventually, Polar Bear Club became a full time band, touring constantly, opening up for Bad Religion, Face To Face, and doing several Warped tours during their time.  Finally, vocalist Rory Van Grol moved out to Providence, Rhode Island and ended up joining hardcore rockers Soul Control, who also became a full time touring band for a few years.  So there was a lot that got in the way of Achilles doing a whole lot after this record was released.

But I distinctly recall the guys getting in touch when they were down in Pennsylvania recording “Hospice” and informing me of how well they felt things were going and how pleased they were with the results.  Once they were finished the guys drove up to my house before heading back to Rochester to play the record.  They were so excited about it and wanted me to check out every song.  I remember as things closed with “The Cold Floor” and how emotional of a song it was, a perfect ending for a record and closing a chapter on things.  I still get goosebumps when I think of that song and I know there’s been more than a few times where they played it live and I got a bit weepy-eyed.  Oh, did I mention multiple shows seeing them play songs from this record?  Well, yeah.  The band didn’t split up.  They still aren’t split up.  They continued to play when possible, even if that meant just a weekend every year, or a show once every few years.  There’s even been some new material written since “Hospice” came out in 2007, even though it has not been recorded (yet).
When I think of ‘successful’ records that have been released by this label there are those that did so in the commercial sense by selling through their pressing(s), or bands that toured extensively and gained notoriety far and wide.  I often come across people who state that “Hospice” is one of their favorite records of all time.  Like, it had a major impact upon their life.  It’s one of those releases that has done fine for me insofar as selling a decent amount.  But to hear people regularly refer to this as a life-changing record, well, that’s big.  That goes above and beyond any commercial success a record may have.  And I’m inclined to agree that it is one of the ‘best’ records I’ve had the pleasure of releasing.
These days the band is still spread out.  Bassist Josh Dillon lives in Portland, drummer Chris Browne lives in LA.  Rob is still in the Rochester region with his family, and vocalist Rory Van Grol moved back to Rochester after Soul Control stopped playing, started a family of his own, and owns a great coffee business called Ugly Duck (which I encourage you all to check out if you’re in the area).  I’ve known Rory now for well over 20 years and he remains one of my favorite people around due to his kind demeanor, thoughtful presence, and his ability to naturally bring happiness to those around him.  He’s a busy guy and we found some time to catch up and discuss “Hospice”, particularly because of its’ lyrical weight even all these years later.

So, going into recording “Hospice” you all knew the band was going to be slowing down, right?

That came afterwards.  There was never any intention of us going in and recording, and then slowing down afterwards at all.  The way we wrote this record was so natural for all of us.  We were practicing, at minimum, two or three nights a week.  It was like we wrote this record naturally, it just came out of us.  It was very natural in the way we put this together, and it felt like kind of a quick turnaround from “Dark Horse”.  It felt very fluid.  And then once that record came out it got kind of weird because Chris (Browne, drums) stated that he had this opportunity to go to school in Boston.  He was like, “I think I got to do it.”  And I thought, “fuck, this is crazy, what are we going to do?”  So we all started having these really great conversations about the identity of the band.
We named the record “Hospice”, but it wasn’t because of a slow down, or a death, or anything.  We knew the band couldn’t last the way it was forever, but we were also like, ‘why would we break up?  Why put a total stop to something that we love?’ And that wasn’t just with playing songs, but hanging out together as friends.  For us, it’s just another way to hang out and enjoy each other’s company.
Of all the bands I’ve ever been in, Achilles, and particular this record, is the proudest record that I have been a part of. And it feels like the most complete record of any record I’ve been on, having played a role in it.  It just has an energy that we all put into it that was so natural.
So there was never any intent for us to walk away from this and say, “ok, that was it.”

And I remember you all made it clear to me as well that you weren’t breaking up, just slowing down.  But maybe it’s the passage of time that makes the timeline of events blur in my mind because there’s a number of songs on that record that make allusions to death, endings, and saying goodbyes, and I didn’t know if that was the point of the record to make a statement about slowing the band down.  But you’re stating that all came afterwards.  So maybe I’m associating what happened with the band after the record came out with subject matter within the songs.

Yeah, I get that.  That definitely was not the theme of the record, and I’ve never been a theme writer, or devote a record to a single subject.  That’s just not how I write.  But there was definitely, at that time in my life, personally, a lot of that going on.  I was coming out of a gnarly relationship that finally ended.  That was cathartic.  Another aspect was my grandparents passed away, and people close to us passed away, and others moved away.  Having attachment to those people, and feeling and exploring those things for me, in my mid-to-late 20’s, made me think, ‘well, what the fuck am I doing? Am I going to be doing this forever?  I have no idea.’  I think there was a lot of internal stuff that I was going through during that.  For me I wasn’t putting it on the band to say I’m writing about this stuff and this is the idea that I think is going to relevant for all of us.
Specifically the song “In These Stark Halls” is a good example.  My grandfather had passed away and I thought later about how I had missed so many things that I could have learned.  I took him for granted.  He had so many stories and I wish I had interacted with him more about that.  And it made me think about my life and what am I going to do next?  Am I just going to play in bands and work in grocery stores?  There’s no career path for me in that!

So what you’re saying is it was more of a coincidence, more or less, that some of these songs had to do with loss, but it paralleled what was going to be occurring with the band shortly after it came out.  It just worked out that way.

Totally.  It totally coalesced together in a natural way without intention.

So besides Chris going to Boston around that time, other stuff started occurring.  And again, I’m blurring the exact timeline, but Rob (Antonucci, guitarist) started a family and you moved to Providence, correct?

Yup.  For me, I knew that Rob had this stuff going on, Chris was doing this thing, and I didn’t feel beholden to stick around because of a band.  My other band, How We Are, had just broken up and I thought that sucked, but it is what it is.  So Chris had just moved to Boston and my friend Brian told me he was moving to Rhode Island and asked if I wanted to come with him.  It was weird because I had never lived anywhere else other than Rochester.  So, why not?  In all honesty, I was starting to look at houses in Rochester and think about buying a house and just staying there.  But my thought about moving was, ‘if I don’t do this now I’ll never do it.’  And that sort of just catapulted my decision to move to Providence.  Everyone was doing their own thing and I felt comfortable enough to leave and not feel guilty about it.  We would have been holding each back from something if we all stayed put. 
So that was huge for me.  The guys in Achilles are family and that’s big for us.

I can’t recall, but did you do any touring at all for “Hospice”?

I don’t think we ever did.  We did some weekends.  We did a weekend with Like Wolves out to Boston, but we never toured on this record.  And that’s a bummer because I think this record is great!

Agreed.  It seems to be the record within the Achilles catalog that people tend to hold up the highest.

It’s weird because when I’ve been out on the road with other bands people would ask me regularly if I was in Achilles.  And then they always would talk about “Hospice”.  And it was always cool to me that people knew that existed because I don’t feel as if we gave it justice.  I think that if we toured on that record, at the time it came out, I feel like we would have been more well-received for that than we ever were when we toured on “Dark Horse”.
And I think “Hospice” is where we came into our own because our influences were coalescing, it was very fluid for us in how we wrote it, and it’s ‘us’, ya know?

It’s never too late to get in the van!

(laughs) If anyone wants to book us on a fest, get in touch!

Just give a 10-months heads up beforehand.

(laughs) It takes that long now just because we laid dormant for so long.  But if we were to play a show and then another one a couple months later, it wouldn’t take as much time to get back into the groove.  But since it usually is quite a long time between shows it takes longer get the gears turning.
        picture by David Beyerlein

I listened to another podcast that you were on recently and you had mentioned something in there that I thought was a bit weird.  It had to do with you stating that you thought people didn’t really care about the band too much when you were active, but once you began playing once every couple years people really latched on and it was a big deal.  However, I always felt that the band had a good response regardless of when it was.  It seemed like you always did pretty well.

Yeah, maybe it’s my own mental thing.  When we were a band, I feel like, before “Hospice” came out we played a lot.  We played a lot of shows.  And I think about some of the shows we did play that if that were to happen today it would be so much bigger.  Or, maybe it’s one of those things where I remember certain shows as not being as great as other people see it.  It’s probably my own personal attachment to it that I think processes it differently.
I also think that we were always a proficient band, we were always tight.  But something didn’t connect for me until “Hospice” came out where it all fit together for me.  It was more intense, and it was the ultimate space for my involvement.  Maybe I was a little distracted in the past with things.
Obviously, the more recent one off shows are more of an event, but I even think back to playing our record release show with Young Widows at a coffee shop, and how there was some energy there that we had never had before.

I remember that show.  It was a small space, but it was really cool.

Anyways, prior to recording the record what was the band up to?  Was there some touring leading up to it? 

We never had a sit-down, let’s write a record’ sort of thing.  It’s funny because Rob brought this up last time he and I were talking about this record.  He said that we started writing this record without really knowing that we were writing it.  We were on a European tour, and we were in the Tate Modern Gallery, and the idea for the song “Curtains” came up.  Chris and Rob were just humming parts, and that’s kind of how those guys worked.  They would just talk about parts, and eventually those pieces would just come together, and we just started writing songs when we got back from that tour.  It just evolved from there.
I also don’t remember about how we approached you about putting this out. I think we waited until we had at least half of the record written before letting you know we had a bunch of songs.  I don’t remember how that went.  But I do remember that, always as a band, we would say, ‘Ryan likes our shit, that’s all we care about.  He wants us to be a part of Hex Records.’  We always felt that was a label that best fits us as a band.  You have been honest and have trusted us to come up with stuff.  We really had no other goals as a band other than being on Hex. 

I also remember nothing about that conversation.  At that point I just assumed that I would release whatever came next.  I’d say Achilles had a good track record of releasing good records, being active, and being good people.

However, I thought there was an odd choice about where you all recorded.  And I mean that because the early stuff was recorded locally, which makes sense.  “Dark Horse” was done in Louisville, which also made sense because a lot of bands were going there at that time and you all had made a lot of friendships with bands from there.  But recording in PA with Vince Ratti left me wondering what the connection was with that guy?

I think Chris made that decision.  But I also think The Minor Times recorded there as well.

Oh yeah, they recorded their full length there.

Yeah, and we thought that stuff sounded fucking sick.  And for us, The Minor Times was just so awesome.  Their sound was angular, and in a similar way, and sonically kind of what we were going for.  We heard things on their recordings that was what we also wanted.  We wanted to go a bit cleaner because we had gone dirty.  We were doing some more spacey sorts of things that we wanted to sound cleaner.  Chris wanted to have some click-track for better timing.  So we searched Vince out and went down to where he was, outside of Philly.  We got there and I think he was recording in his parents garage.  It was kind of weird.  (laughs)
I remember I went down separately with Max (Quattroci, roadie, also drummer for Like Wolves and Coming Down).  Rob, Chris, and Josh went down before me to track.  I figured I wasn’t going to be any good just twiddling my thumbs.  There’s no point for me to be there.  They’re going to get the sounds they want.  I came down when vocals were ready to go.  And I showed up and thought it was funny that it was this kid’s garage.  I guess I thought it was going to be more professional.  Vince was rad.  But I just had to laugh a bit because it was inside this dudes parents’ garage.
It was an overall chill recording, Vince totally understood what we were going for, and the room sounded great.  I remember Chris and Rob going back and forth about a lot of different guitar parts.  I remember Josh was locking in a lot of really great vibe-y bass tones.  We highlighted a lot of that and played with his sound more.  I remember being really psyched on that.
And I’ve always had a hard time with recording vocals.  It’s not my favorite thing to do.  I listen to “Hospice” and I still hear things like “my vocals sound totally shredded here”, but it adds a layer to the record and overall, I think the record sounds great.
We stayed with this guy Bob, who was originally from Syracuse, but lived down there.  And there was, and I’m using this term, a ‘punk towel’.  By saying that most punks can probably understand what that is.  But yeah, someone had forgot to bring a towel and just used whatever was there.  So they had the grossest smelling, nastiest towel, and I don’t know how long it had been there.  But that was the ongoing joke for us was , ‘why would you use the punk towel?  Why would you even consider using that as an option?’  That was a fun experience, but I wasn’t around for the whole thing.
I remember the drive home from recording was awful.  It was in January when we recorded that.  Me and Max drove home super late on a Sunday.  This is how stupid I was when I was younger, though I’m probably on the same level, just in a different way:  I wanted to get back because I felt like I had to be at work the next day, like 5 or 6 in the morning or something.  So it’s like midnight and I said to Max ‘we gotta go!’
So we get on the road and there’s this terrible snowstorm.  It’s a total white out, white-knuckling it, going 20 miles an hour.  Just brutal.  And we’re just trucking.  We kept switching because we were both like nodding off in this whiteout.  It was so terrible.  It’s like every reason you moved to the West Coast.


We were seeing big rigs off the side of the road, shit like that.  (laughs) It’s like we’re driving home from recording this record we’re calling “Hospice” and I’m wondering if we’re even going to make it home!
So we get back, Max drops me off at work, I worked my shitty shift, and then went to bed. So those were the big memories for me in regards to recording that record.

Almost dying on the way home from it.

Totally almost died.  I remember too that Boston weekend we did those guys also spun out on the road and almost ate it.  I think Ben from Like Wolves was in the van.  I was living in Providence at the time so I wasn’t with them.  But I remember getting woken up in the middle of the night to a crazy phone call about the guys almost getting killed on the road.  Thankfully everyone was OK.

I know Rob is the art guy, but there had to be some group discussion around why the record just had photos of buildings and decay as opposed to art.  Any insight into that?

Totally.  Rob and I are very much spin things off of one another, moreso than Chris and Josh do.  They tend to hear our ideas and just say, ‘yeah, cool’, or ‘I like this and I don’t like this.’  But Rob and I say ‘what about this’ and go from there.  So this guy Shawn Carney took all the photos for the record.  We just saw the photos he had and thought they looked amazing.  So we asked him if he would want to have his photos for the record and he said that would be great and sent a bunch over.  Those photos just spoke to us, and I think they spoke to the record.  We wanted them to be a contrast.  We didn’t want it to be crazy, we wanted it to be inviting.  We wanted the art to say, ‘we want you to come into this’, rather than everything all at once.  We wanted to bring people in a little bit more.  We were trying to communicate that as a band to have these photos because we thought they were rad.  Plus, the cover is a picture of a building in Providence, Rhode Island!

What a weird premonition!

It was not planned!  I didn’t know I would eventually be living there later.  But Shawn had also lived there, so it made sense.
But we thought it was just a cool layout idea.  Rob wanted to lay out lyrics more than do the design of everything.  We like people to connect to our band.  I remember sending those directions to Shawn and giving him the artistic creativity to do what he wanted.  I liked that collaborative aspect.

So there wasn’t an aspect of ‘look at this decaying city’, it was just more about having good photos.

It was definitely artistic.  But at the time the record came out there was all the crazy flooding happening in New Orleans that sort of connected to that a little.  The song “Sea Level” was named after when New Orleans was just getting devastated, and you never think about all the people that was affecting.  And how do you even relate to that?  That doesn’t happen here.  We get ice storms and shit.  But we’ve never lived through crazy flooding or anything like that.

How have you made the band continue to work all these years later with busy schedules and being spread across the country?

I think it’s just because we care about each other.  We care about where we’re all at with things happening in each others lives.  We check in.  The friendships are the lynchpin of this band.  It’s why this band still exists.  It’s another reason to get together and be a part of each others lives and create something that is still relevant.
I’m so excited whenever I talk to someone in this band.  It gives me life. Our communication is more than just verbal, there’s a feeling there where we think, ‘How could we just walk away?  How could we throw away something that is so intuitive to all of us.’
I think as long as we’re all friends we’re still going to be a band, even if it’s playing one show every four years.  We don’t care.  We’re just psyched to get together and jam, hang out, and be in each others presence.  I care about Josh, and Rob, and Chris and whether we’re just talking about football or basketball, or kids and weddings and shit it doesn’t matter.  We just deeply care about one another.

Is it a little different now because while you guys are all the same, the audience has changed.  A lot of the people you used to expect to see have lives of their own, or moved away, typical things that happen to people after 10 or 12 years.  Does that give you a weird perspective?

Yes and no.  I think for all of us and the people who show up and are psyched to be there that are from the days past is great.  That’s always great.  But there’s also this younger energy that comes out and may not have seen us in any other era other than now.  And that’s amazing.  I mean, this record came out in 2007?  That was 12 years ago!

A literal lifetime for hardcore kids.

Right!  For that record to still connect with others is great.  We always loved these songs, but for them to still be well received in a way that surprises us is amazing.  The last time we played Rochester in 2016 it was wild, it was packed.    It’s interesting to see a totally different wave of kids, a totally different crop of kids, be into this.

I love catching up with Rory and anyone else from this band really.  You ought to do the same in the form of listening to this awesome record.  Oh, you don't have it?  Well, now you can get the CD HERE for $4 for the next week.  If you do the digital go HERE and score it for $3.  Win-win.

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