Words by David C. Obenour
Living through a pandemic and the progression regression of our collective reemergence, Chicago’s Barren Heir experienced their own doom in the summer of 2021. Reaching the finishing stages of recording their sophomore album, Big Bellowing Nothing, original drummer and longtime friend, Nick LaRocoo made the decision to leave the band.
But Big Bellowing Nothing isn’t their sophomore album that just came out.
With new drummer, Adam Thorsness, bassist and vocalist Eddie Limperis and guitarist Dave Kirsch have found new direction for Barren Heir. Died Down is the soundtrack to that discovery. Caustic. Pummeling. Unrelenting and cathartic. The songs are captured perfectly in the rawness and urgency in which they were created.
Off Shelf: You were finishing the album, Big Bellowing Nothing when drummer Nick LaRocoo left the band. How complete were those recordings? Do you have any plans to still release the album or revisit those songs?
Eddie Limperis: That record is completely finished, but unreleased. The timing of all the changes that took place really screwed things up with that one. I think we’ll release it at some point soon, maybe as a Bandcamp exclusive, but it’s pretty unlikely that we’ll revisit those songs live. We’re kind of a different band at this point. Dave [Kirsch] and I are still proud of the record and want people to hear it. It just isn’t really an accurate representation of where we’re at currently, so releasing it is tricky.
OS: Leaving in the summer of 2021, I’m imagining that meant the majority of writing and recording happened during the pandemic. What was going on with the band throughout that process?
EL: Indeed. It was a strange time, obviously. Eventually we became pretty focused on writing that record and just kind of using that to keep busy. It was very close to not happening in the end. Nick was moving and tracked all his drums a couple days before leaving. Recording that was the last time the three of us played together, so it’s a cool end cap for that first chapter of this band and I’m glad we were able to at least finish it.
OS: After Nick had left, did you envision that Barren Heir would continue on? Where was your head at?
EL: I didn’t know if we would continue. Dave and I definitely wanted to, but I had a lot of doubts about it actually working out. The three of us started this band in 2015, but we had all been playing music together since 2004. It just seemed very unlikely that we’d be able to bring in someone new after all that time and have everything mesh together.
OS: How did you first connect with Adam Thorsness? How do you feel he continues what you had done and how does he build on that?
EL: We had all known Adam for a few years through one of his other bands, Thieves. When Nick told us he was going to be leaving, the three of us all had Adam in mind as our first choice for a replacement. I knew Adam was already pretty busy but I asked him if he would be down to try it out, even just to see if we could keep the band going in any capacity. Once we started playing together, everything fell into place pretty seamlessly. Adam not only saved this band but he completely reenergized us and made us stronger.
We approach writing the same way with Adam as we did with Nick. We have always embraced what comes organically, rather than trying to sound a certain way. Adam is a very different drummer, so the results are going to be different. But we wanted him to be himself and be part of the whole process—not to try and replicate how we sounded before.
OS: Are the songs from Died Down new originals you had written with Adam or are these ones from before?
EL: Everything on Died Down is new stuff that was written with Adam. We started working on songs right away, just to kind of get the ball rolling and see how we all gelled together. After we had a couple songs down, we got a show offer that was maybe three or four months out. Adam suggested we accept the offer to sort of light a fire under us to come up with a full set. We agreed on that and that’s how all the songs on Died Down came together – minus Proximity Itch, which was written a little later. So it was definitely written with a sense of urgency that I think really shows through. We didn’t overthink anything this time, and that was definitely an issue in the past.
OS: Died Down has some really hypnotic rhythms but also some angular and jarring ones too. How do you balance hooking into a groove and knowing when and how to challenge and change it?
EL: Just trying to find the sweet spot. Everyone is pretty good with identifying what should be dragged out and what should be brief. Also making crappy iPhone recordings at practice to listen back to later, which is super helpful in that regard.
OS: Ringing with doom and pummeling anger, the few lines of lyrics for Died Down mirror the mood of the music. Where do you feel that in your life?
EL: In the ongoing struggle of trying to find balance in life. The pace of everything is so rapid, to a point where it just isn’t healthy. Playing aggressive music feels like a reckoning with all those forces working against you and your sanity.
OS: It’s interesting because Barren Heir almost feels like an instrumental band with how the vocals play so tightly with the music. Are lyrics something you talk about or collaborate on as a band when writing? Or are lyrics primarily your role and your’s alone?
EL: Well we almost were an instrumental band at one point. Our previous band could not hang on to a vocalist, so we were considering just being instrumental when we started this band. I just didn’t like the idea of being all instrumental personally because it felt too safe. I knew we could do it, whereas the idea of trying to do vocals myself was very intimidating. I had no experience doing vocals before and wanted to at least give it a shot.
Thus far, the lyrics have been primarily my role. Dave and Adam will sometimes identify spots that should or should not have vocals. Mostly they just trust whatever I come up with, but I think it’s something that we will collaborate on more moving forward.
OS: With so much personal and societal upheaval over those few short years, how do you look back at the changes Barren Heir has experienced since your debut in 2015?
EL: I’m grateful for all the changes the band has gone through. We’re still here playing music and that’s something that looked very uncertain a couple years ago.
OS: Now that things are starting to finally feel somewhat more normal, do you approach making music any differently? Either writing or performing live?
EL: There is definitely more of a sense of urgency. We used to be really bad at getting things across the finish line. I especially would struggle with calling things ‘done’ and would really be too much of a perfectionist. Now, we’re just having more fun with it, and not overthinking everything.