Stretch Arm Strong

Stretch Arm Strong - David Sease

  • May 2024
  • Online
  • Matt Horowitz
  • Iodine Records

Last time I talked to anyone in Stretch Arm Strong (S.A.S.,) it was back in 2022 for a NO ECHO interview which can be read here. It was published coinciding with the then-recent Iodine Recordings re-released, re-issued, re-packaged, re-designed, re-mixed, re-mastered, re-etc. of their 1999 sophomore album, Rituals of Life. Since then, S.A.S. has played Furnace Fest a number of times and very recently, shared their first new recordings (and likely last) together in almost 20 years. The Revealing is a triumphant six-track EP that’s neither here nor there in just under a matter of a mere 15 minutes. I won’t belabor this any further, but… Stretch Arm Strong‘s The Revealing EP is well-worth your time! I recently got a chance to speak with S.A.S.’s long-time guitarist and founding member David Sease about their potentially last hurrah. Check out our comprehensive interview below, which has been lightly edited for general clarity. Stretch Arm Strong‘s The Revealing EP is now available on Iodine Recordings.

Stretch Arm Strong

MH – How long ago did Stretch Arm Strong get back together and when did you guys re-group to start working on The Revealing EP?

David Sease: “We were asked to play the first Furnace Fest reunion that was supposed to happen in 2020. After a lot of deliberation, we decided that we would. We all got together a few times to practice for it and had a great time, but, then, everything shut down because of COVID and the festival was canceled. Even though The Fest was canceled, we established a pattern of how we might get together and practice music again. When the 2021 Furnace Fest was announced, we were asked to play again and we decided to do it. So, since then, we’ve played Furnace Fest twice, a local show in South Carolina, a show in New Jersey, and a show in Long Island. During our scattered practices for these shows, the idea of recording new music came up, but we pretty quickly abandoned the idea because we just didn’t have the capacity to make it all work. We only had the skeleton of one new song, which ended up being “Still Believe, Part III,” and no idea where we would record the new music. Ultimately, we just abandoned the idea. In the Summer of 2023, Casey [Horrigan] from Iodine Recordings asked us if we would like to record with Steve Evetts. He had already paid some money [upfront] for some time in the studio for another band that was not going to be able to record and he offered the time to us. The only existing stipulation was that it pretty much had to happen by the end of the year. We said “yes,” but, essentially, had from the end of the Summer of 2023 to November of 2023 to write the music and get ready to record.”

MH Who are the members of Stretch Arm Strong as it stands in 2024 and what is each member’s role within the band?

“Stretch Arm Strong is Chris McLane on vocals, Jeremy Jeffers on bass, John Barry on the drums, Scott Dempsey on guitar, and myself, David Sease, also, on guitar.”

Stretch Arm Strong

MH. What is the intended meaning or significance behind the EP title The Revealing and how does the EP cover imagery tie into these themes?

“Firstly, just to clarify, I can only speak to the meaning of the title from my own perspective. The other guys in the band may have a different interpretation. I think that one of the great things about music is that lyrics and titles are open to interpretation! Also, I cannot necessarily speak to the relationship of the title as it pertains to lyrics in the song “Take A Stand” because I didn’t write those lyrics. The song “Take A Stand” was written by Chris, our singer, when he was in a great Hardcore [band] called Strait pP with Scott back in the early 90’s right before Stretch Art Strong formed. It is a song that they had on a split 7-inch. S.A.S. always liked that song, so we decided to cover it on this EP. The title for the EP comes from lines in the song “A Revealing,” the last song on the EP, and it is difficult to discuss the title without going a bit into the song itself. And the song itself only addresses some of the aspects of the title. So, I’ll do my best! In the context of this song and in the EP, to “reveal” means to uncover something that already exists, but is hidden or obscured in some way. These lyrics were written from my perspective that we all have a foundational nature at our core that is full of love, wisdom, compassion, and brightness. Unfortunately, this foundational part of ourselves can be covered up and obscured by layers upon layers of confusion and delusion. When we operate in the layers where the confusion and delusion are prominent, we can forget our deeper nature and often experience struggle, stress, disagreement, and disappointment, as a result.

The lyrics in the song, “A Revealing,” and much of the other lyrics in other songs on this EP point to the idea that if we can learn to calm the confusion, noise, and turbulence on the surface, our foundational nature can be revealed to us and once it is, we have an opportunity to see the same nature in everyone around us, allowing us to navigate the world in a different and more positive way than before. From this place, we are more likely to give grace than grief, console than criticize, and reconcile than recoil. The artwork was done by our old friend and frequent collaborator, Kevin Rej. He’s done lots of great work with us through the years including flyers, posters, and the art for the Free At Last album. We sent Kevin the lyrics to the EP and he took off. The lyrics in the song “Aspirations” must have jumped out at him, as he made two wolves a big part of this design. As an aside, the den of wolves in the song represents the confusion, chaos, and turmoil of the world. The cityscape in the background is our hometown, Columbia in South Carolina. If you’ve never heard our song “For The Record,” give that a spin and you’ll get some insight as to our relationship with our city and how we felt about growing up here. There are many, many layers of texture in this design, which is appropriate to the idea of “revealing.” One thing that I really love about the artwork is that the eyes appear differently to me when looked at as the eyes of the wolves versus the eyes of the skull. When I focus on the eyes as part of the wolves, they are vicious and seem to be intent on some sort of attack, but when I see them as the eyes of the skull, they seem almost thoughtful and relaxed. To be thoughtful and still within the chaos and turbulence of the world is a gift that we can give to ourselves and to everyone around us! This concept recalls the lyrics to the song “Aspirations” that the lambs are standing tall among the wolves, unafraid, undeterred, and still gentle.”

MH. How was The Revealing EP recorded?

Sease: “We recorded the EP with Steve Evetts at his Bell House Studios in New Jersey over six days in November of 2023. He mixed most of it in January 2024 and it was mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side [Music].”

Stretch Arm Strong

MH. Who or what would you readily cite as your primary sources of inspiration and influence while creating the EP?

““The Mirror” was the last song that was written for this release. There was another song that I had recorded along with the other demos and it stood out as just not working within the context of the other songs and I felt like we needed something more like a track that might have been on the Rituals of Life album; something sort of Metal-influenced, fast, hard, and to the point. So, I began working on what became “The Mirror.” The music of that song came together pretty quickly once I wrote the fast riff. I think that if you listen to this song closely, you can see that it would have fit in well in the Rituals of Life tracklisting. Lyrically, this song was inspired by the idea of self-reflection, which is a theme that weaves throughout the lyrics of the whole EP. “Polishing the mirror” is a metaphor for reflection (introspections / contemplations / meditation,) which can remove the layers of confusion that obscure our vision. When we “polish the mirror,” we can see our true reflection and when it is revealed, we can find that aforementioned brightness. The words “plant the spark, harvest the fire” gives a nod to the lyrics in The Grateful Dead’s song, “Franklin’s Tower” regarding planting ice and harvesting wind. My use of this phrase is to suggest that what we encourage, we cause to grow, for better or for worse. The lyrics of the song “Illuminating” were inspired by a story that a friend of mine shared with me about how he was able to help a friend of his through a really dark period of life. The opening lines point back to that idea of how powerful it can be when our true and loving nature is revealed to us and when we can see the same nature in other people. When two bright sparks recognize one another, there is real communion. The song, also, points to the idea that even these darkest moments can become great teachers for us. I have always been influenced by MADBALL. I love the bounce and swagger in their breakdowns and their groove has been ingrained in my writing since ‘92! I think that vibe found its way into the opening riff of the song “Illuminating” and the breakdown. There may be some TERROR influence peppered in there, too! I have, also, always been inspired by the guitar work of bands like RKL, NOFX, SNFU, and more recently, Propagandhi. I, also, appreciate the guitar work of A Willhelm Scream and Comeback Kid and I think these influences found their way in the verses for this song, as well as in “Still Believe, Part III.”

“Jeremy, our bass player, was messing around on the bass when we were practicing one day and played something really fast like what is now the opening of the song “Aspirations.” When he played it, I perked up and asked him to keep playing it. I don’t remember the course of events afterwards, but it was that bassline that inspired those chords that ring out at the beginning. Some people have told me that the intro reminds them of Iron Maiden, which I can see, but it has a NOFX kind of vibe to me. Musically, the rest of the song is sort of a “For The Record” approach in that it is pretty straight-forward, Hardcore Punk, that doesn’t slow down until it needs to! I messed around with the lyrics for this song, but it really started taking shape when the line “… lambs born into a den of wolves” came to me. As I was scratching out lyrics for this song, Scott & I were talking and he mentioned that he would love it if we could incorporate the phrase “carpe diem” into a song as an homage to his late father-in-law. As an aside, his father-in-law and the whole family have been supporters of Stretch Arm Strong for a long time and hold a dear place in our hearts! I didn’t know how to use the words “carpe diem,” so I thought about what “seizing the day” meant to me. I ended up thinking about seizing every moment. The lyrics point to the idea that we are vulnerable creatures that are trying to operate in a difficult world and although the forces in it may seem threatening, we can make the most of every moment of every day when we decide to “lead with love,” allowing love to be the basis of our actions. The act of love is a victory in and of itself.  The song is called “Aspirations” because it can be very difficult to see how to do this, but it would be great if we could!”

““Still Believe, Part III” has many of the same musical influences that I’ve mentioned in the other songs and perhaps with a little bit of Hatebreed in the mix! I like this song a lot because it blends the heaviness of [Hardcore] (HXC,) the energy of Punk, and the catchiness of Rock all together in one song. To me, the chorus reminds me a little of how we approached the chorus to the song “When Words Escape.” They both have four chords with a sing-song kind of vibe. Jeremy, our bass player, came up with the idea of having a guitar solo on this tune and gave me direction on what it might sound like. I think he was totally right about including it. I don’t think we would have done that on our old albums, but now that we’re old and just want to enjoy music, we went for it! The music in the verses reminds me of some of our songs on A Revolution Transmission, in terms of their structure. The first words that were written for this song were “I still believe” and the rest of the words for the chorus came out pretty quickly. The chorus and the words for the breakdown towards the end of the song were inspired by a friend of mine that went through a tough patch in a relationship. I was inspired by the person’s willingness to forgive another person and their commitment to honoring the promises that they made to one another. The chorus was written first and, then, I decided to sort of use the idea of a rock as a metaphor for the first verse.”

“The song “Take A Stand” is a cover song. Chris wrote this song back in 1990 or ‘91 for the band Strait Up that he and Scott were in prior to Stretch Arm Strong. It came out on a 7-inch in 1991. I have always loved that song and S.A.S. has always played bits and pieces of it through the years. I am glad that we decided to re-record this gem! This tune is just one of the many great songs Chris has written!”

“Musically, the song “A Revealing” is interesting because it is the only song we’ve ever done with drop-tuning. We play in D standard, but this song is in drop C. Using different tuning inspires different kinds of playing. Jeremy came up with the bones of this song. He and I were recording his ideas one day and trying to piece it together and I accidentally had part of one of the riffs on loop and the playback of that loop is what became the main riff of the first verse. That was a happy accident, indeed! I absolutely love the drums on the second verse of this song. To me, it has a real 90’s NYHC vibe to it, à la Biohazard. The double-snare slap and triplets give that Hip-Hop-influenced HXC bounce that I love. John is such a great drummer and the second verse of this song may be some of my favorite drumming he’s ever done on tape. I celebrate Jeremy’s willingness to try something new for this song and credit that as inspiring this song. I’ve sort of already gone through the themes of the song, but I was inspired by the idea of a death and a birth for the two verses of this song. The first verse is set at a funeral with the usual attendants, whereas the second verse is set at a birth. I specifically wanted to use the word “overstand” in the second verse because it signifies more than understanding. It means true understanding. You will hear many Reggae artists and The Bad Brains use the word “overstand” in their lyrics. I think it’s very powerful and it has always jumped out at me when people use that word instead of “understand.” Chris said that he was listening to a bunch of the band Turmoil before going into the studio and he was excited to channel that energy on the vocals for this song. I think he did a fantastic job! For the vocal parts that I sang, I tried to channel my inner Eddie Leeway [Eddie Sutton of Leeway], one of my favorite vocalists of all time. I have just learned that Eddie Sutton passed away while I was working on this interview. I wish him, his family, and friends well. Eddie belongs on the Mount Rushmore of HXC vocalists. R.I.P., Eddie, you are missed.”

“Generally, Stretch Arm Strong has been known to be a Posi-Hardcore band and I hoped to continue that tradition as well as I could with my contributions to this EP. I hope that it reaches people and I hope that they find it inspiring.”

MH. How does it genuinely feel to have released the first proper Stretch Arm Strong release in nearly 20 years?

Sease: “Although it feels great to release new music, it was a difficult decision. We have always been grateful for the support that people have shown us, for their enthusiasm for our music, and for the stories that they’ve shared with us about what our music has meant to them. We knew that this would almost certainly be the last thing that we’d ever record as a band and we did not want to leave with something that we didn’t think honored what the band means to us and to what it might mean to other people. I am very glad that we took the chance and gave it our best shot. I think the EP turned out great and I really like it.”

Stretch Arm Strong

MH. Can you tell us how Sick of It All’s Lou Koller got involved in the recording processes of or relating to “Take A Stand?”

Sease: “As I mentioned before, the song “Take A Stand” is a cover song that Chris wrote a long time ago. We have always loved Sick of It All (S.O.I.A.). They have been a consistent influence on our band. As far as I’m concerned, they set the bar and established a template for what a live show needs to look like! We were fortunate enough to tour with them in Europe and The US. Chris is good with keeping in touch with people and he has stayed in touch with some of the gentlemen in S.O.I.A. When we found out that we were recording in New Jersey, he reached out to Lou to see if he’d be interested in singing on the EP. When Lou said that he’d like to do it, we were stoked! We thought that “Take A Stand” would be the perfect song for him to sing on and he absolutely crushed it! To have Lou sing on this song is very special! Lou should, also, be on the Mount Rushmore of HXC vocalists. Let me take this opportunity to say “thank you” to Lou, Craig [Setari], Armand [Majidi], and Pete [Koller] for making amazing music and memories, for inspiring us, and for making the world way cooler by putting out killer music.”

MH. Why did you decide to include “Still Believe, Part III” on The Revealing EP with “Still Believe, Part 2” last heard on 2001’s A Revolution Transmission?

Sease: “The song “Still Believe, Part II” on our Revolution Transmission album was named after the 7Seconds song “Still Believe” on the New Wind album. The very first words that I wrote for “Still Believe, Part III” were “I still believe” and the rest of the words for the chorus came up pretty quickly. It made sense to us to go ahead and name this song “Part III.” Chris wrote the words to “Part II” on the Revolution Transmission record and I cannot speak for him, but there does seem to be some similarities between the two songs in that they both have to do with relationships and the importance of perseverance in a relationship. As a side note, one of the most powerful moments of the EP recording process happened as we were tracking the vocals for the bridge, after the breakdown, and before the outro chorus. If you listen closely, everyone in S.A.S. gets a chance to sing on this song! Right after Chris sings “I’ll walk with you,” Jeremy accompanies Scott and, then, John as they sing “I still believe.” When I heard them singing “I still believe,” I realized that this EP was already a success, as far as I was concerned.”

Stretch Arm Strong

MH. In addition to or aside from the core members of Stretch Arm Strong, who else worked on or help create The Revealing EP?

Sease: “I have to give Steve Evetts props again for his involvement on this EP. I think he got us the perfect sounds and performances for these songs. Production is such an important part of recording and the sonic palette that is used affects the vibe of the music. Steve took the time to get the right sounds up front and it ended up being really close to the sound that we ended up with on the final mixes. Having solid sounds and tones from the start energizes the whole recording process because as you’re recording your parts, you’re hearing aggressive tones and you become energized. Each subsequent stage of production builds on the previous and it all leads to a powerful collection of songs. A different production of this EP may have come across as too Poppy or Melodic and less aggressive. I think this recording came out much heavier than it might have, if we worked with a different engineer/producer and I am extremely happy with how this EP sounds.”

“Steve, also played percussion and the piano bits on the EP. Stretch Arm Strong has had piano on three previous albums and I’m really glad that Steve played on the intro and outro of “A Revealing” on this release. I had worked out two or, maybe, three-part harmonies for the chorus, but when we were tracking the first harmony vocal, it wasn’t working. Steve went to the piano to help figure out what the vocal harmonies needed to be. The happy accident in all of this was that while he was playing the piano, representing what might be the vocal harmonies, Jeremy noted that it sounded so good and he suggested that Steve play that for the outro of the song. It was a great idea and I think it really puts a nice ending to a pretty intense song and energetic EP. As I mentioned before, Kevin Rej, our old friend, did an amazing job creating the artwork for this EP.”

MH. What sort of relationship did the 2022 vinyl re-release of Rituals of Life (1999) on Iodine Recordings help propel and relate to The Revolution EP?

Sease: “I can’t speak so much on this because I am not the business guy, but Scott (our guitar player) and Casey Horrigan (Iodine Recordings) formed a good relationship during the Rituals of Life re-release and we were all happy to continue the collaboration for the re-release of A Revolution Transmission. When Iodine had some recording time become available with Steve Evetts, they offered it to us, and we were excited to work with them to release the EP. I have to express my gratitude to Casey and the Iodine team for their trust in and support of us. This opportunity, literally, fell into our laps and I don’t take that for granted. This EP would not likely have happened any other way.”

Stretch Arm Strong

MH. How would you say Stretch Arm Strong’s sound has changed, evolved, and progressed since your last release together, 2005’s Free At Last?

Sease: “I won’t go too deeply into the difference in production between the recordings, but each has very distinct approaches, from my perspective. I think the Free At Last album is perfect for its time. Musically, the songs in The Revealing EP are stripped back a little, whereas Free At Last had more intricate guitar parts and textures, The Revealing is more about hard-driving power-chords. The songs on The Revealing were intentionally written to be short songs. I have really come to appreciate shorter songs that get to the point quickly, go hard, and get out fast. If you listen to the songs in each collection, the structure for many of the songs are the same, but the songs on The Revealing have shorter expressions of the verses, choruses, and bridges. For example, if “Illuminating” were on Free At Last, it would have been closer to 3:30 minutes because we would have probably doubled the second chorus and quadrupled the outro chorus. I mean, maybe not, but I think you get the idea!”

MH. What’s planned next for Stretch Arm Strong?

Sease: “The only thing we have on the books is Furnace Fest 2024. Every show could be our last, so, please, come out and celebrate with us!! PEACE!!!”

Furnace Fest

Photography courtesy of JC Carey, Scott Smallin & Joshua Lohrman