Tremulous: to display timidity or nervousness, or shake or quiver slightly. It’s an odd word, one not used commonly in the modern English language—you’re far more likely to come across it in James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, than in your average hardcore record. But here we are, with Western Addiction’s new full-length, Tremulous, an album embodying the anxiety, dread, worry and anguish omnipresent in modern day America. "The word ‘tremulous’ just felt right,” says frontman Jason Hall. “It sums up the theme of the entire record in one word.” Hall puts a premium on the words associated with Western Addiction; every song tells a story, sometimes with uncomfortable specifics and every title and lyric is meant to resonate with the listener on a different level.
While the San Francisco band’s sophomore effort comes nearly 12 years after their debut, Cognicide, don’t think they have grown out of hardcore. Tremulous rips its way through 11 explosive tracks, delivering a consistent sound strongly rooted in the past (picture an alternate universe where Milo Aukerman, Greg Ginn and Fugazi’s rhythm section formed a band) that is plenty aggressive (“Ditch Riders,” “Masscult, Vulgarians and Entitlement”) and surprisingly melodic (“Righteous Lightning,” “Honeycreeper”). It sounds like the same band that made Cognicide, just older, wiser—but still pissed off.
A large part of that consistency can be attributed to the band’s current form, which consists of founding members Hall on vocals, Ken Yamazaki (also of Dead To Me) on guitar and Chad Williams on drums, as well as 2014 recruit Tony Teixeira moving to guitar. When it came time to record Tremulous, Western Addiction re-connected with original bassist, Tyson “Chicken” Annicharico, who was happy to assist his friends in the studio, adding another connection between the band’s past and present. He even had a hand in shaping Tremulous’ most intense song, the album-closing, five-and-a-half-minute dirge “Your Life Is Precious,” written in tribute to friend (and Enemy You frontman) David Jones, whose unexpected death in 2015 had a profound effect on the band.
“I don’t usually write songs in one burst, but I did with that one—every single lyric means something very specific,” Hall says, going on to explain how the song features his first-ever attempt at singing. When he says singing, he really means singing, not your average hardcore throat-bellow. Luckily, he had one of punk’s finest vocalists, Joey Cape, in the producer’s seat for Tremulous, who coaxed him to new heights in his overall performance. “One of the things we asked Joey to work on with us was vocal melodies. He had great input on many songs, especially ‘Ditch Riders,’ ‘Taedium’ and ‘Your Life Is Precious.’”
Tremulous fires off salvo after salvo of incendiary hardcore containing a surprising amount of melodicism, but Cape wasn’t the only member of the Fat Wreck family to offer assistance: Propagandhi’s Todd Kowalski delivers guest vocals on “Taedium” (“Propagandhi has continually influenced and enlightened my life, and I respect Todd as a human,” Hall praises). And while the bulk of the album was recorded with Cape and engineer Ian MacGregor in Los Angeles, the band finished up the vocals in San Francisco with Cape at Fat Mike’s Motor Studios.
Western Addiction turned to an unlikely name to mix Tremulous: Matt Bayles, an esteemed producer whose resume is two decades long and stacked with such major names in metal and hardcore as Mastodon, Botch and Isis. However, it was a different record that put Bayles’ name on Western Addiction’s tongue. “The inspiration for Tremulous was From Ashes Rise’s Nightmares, which Matt produced,” Hall says. “They’re a hardcore band but it sounds so big and well-produced. I wanted to do that. After seeing what Matt could do with my vocals, I was blown away.”
With Tremulous finally out in the world, Hall’s goal for 2017 feels surprisingly attainable while at the same time emotionally exhausting. “I want our band to be understood,” he concludes. “I don’t think we’ve ever found our people. We’re in this netherworld of punk: We’re not poppy, we’re not fun, we’re loud but we’re not a metal band, and the truly crazy hardcore bands would probably think we don’t fit in. I just want to be understood.”