Interview – Jon Simmons of Balance and Composure

2013 has been a busy year for the Doylestown, Pennsylvania natives in Balance and Composure. They’re in the spotlight of their scene, harnessing an honest and haunting sound that is hard to come by in today’s leading rock artists. Their newest full-length album, The Things We Think We’re Missing, reached number 51 on the Billboard charts when it was released in September, and that was followed up with a couple of tours of the country. They just finished a tour with another band from Pennsylvania called Title Fight, and they are heading towards the end of their run opening up for Coheed and Cambria. Before they opened up for Coheed in Grand Rapids on 10/26, I was able to sit down with their front man, Jon Simmons, to discuss some tour stories, the idea of emo music, their relationship with their producer Will Yip, Halloween and Breaking Bad.

What is the one food that you guys can’t live without on tour?
Burritos are probably the main thing we eat. That and pizza. But Chipotle’s like an every other day kind of stop.

Not a Qdoba fan?
We do it if Chipotle’s not around, cause they have queso sauce, too. So, that’s important.

Is there anything you guys get sick of that you have to eat pretty often?
Gas station food, cause sometimes we don’t have time for breakfast and stuff and we have to like get granola bars and, I don’t know, it’s a depressing meal. We definitely get sick of gas station food.

What is the weirdest place that you’ve slept on tour?
*laughs* Well, we’ve stayed in a lot of gross houses. I guess, like, college student houses, with cat pee on the floor and stuff. Yeah, that stuff’s gross. We usually stay in our van a lot in, like, Walmart parking lots all crammed in an SUV. So, that was weird. Stuff like that.

Do you have any other tour horror stories, driving or anything like that?
Yeah, we actually got in an accident like, three weeks ago. It was really bad actually. It was pouring rain and we lost control and flew off a cliff, like, 150 feet. We tipped the van and stuff, just lucky to be alive, really. That was, like, one of the worst things that’s happened to us so far as a band, and yeah… we’re just lucky to be alive. We shouldn’t be here, but we are.

What are some of the songs on your driving playlist?
Ooooh. 2 Chainz. A lot of 2Chainz, a lot of Party Next Door. Have you heard that? Its, like, a new R&B artist. We listen to a lot of hip-hop and stuff like that. We listen to the National a lot, Lana Del Rey…

My girl! Love her.
My girl, my girl. What else…a lot of stuff. 2 Chainz, The Underachievers are a rap group from Brooklyn, we actually saw them last night in Milwaukee. They played the same venue as us. That was awesome. The Weeknd…

You guys are pretty into hip-hop?
Yeah, we’ve always been. But, like, Pianos Become the Teeth we’ve been listening to a lot. We listen to literally everything, like, anything. But 2 Chainz is Bailey, our drummer’s, favorite rapper right now. So, he’s been listening to that, and he drives a lot. So we’ve been listening to that a lot.

Do you have a favorite show from the Title Fight tour?
Yeah, Philly was really cool. Our set was crazy fun. And then we played the Gilman in Berkeley, California, and that’s where, like, Green Day, Rancid and AFI got their start. And apparently that show was the most attendance in their history, ever. They oversold it by, like, 400 people. It was mad illegal, but it was awesome. There was so many people and kids went nuts and it was a surreal show for us, that was fun.

How many shows have you done with Coheed so far?
This is like, our 8th show, I think?

Did you notice a big difference in the crowd demographic already?
For sure. It’s weird, cause we went from a tour with our fans and kids going nuts to a tour where, like, maybe 5 people know who we are and we have to win over all these fans who are here to see strictly Coheed. So, it’s really difficult, actually, but it’s kind of fun to weird everybody out. Cause you’re that band that nobody knows. It’s fun to just kind of be the weird band. So, we’re taking advantage of that.

Were you star-struck at all with Coheed? Have you ever really been star-struck with anyone?
Um.. not with Coheed. We don’t really listen to them that much. But, yeah other tours. We did a tour with Bayside when we first started and that was crazy cause I grew up listening to them. That was cool. And I’ve met some of my heroes and stuff. Like Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra, we became friends. So, at first I was like, “Oh my god, this is cool!” And now its just like he’s my friend. So yeah, I definitely get star-struck sometimes.

How did you guys celebrate when The Things We Think We’re Missing made it to number 51 on Billboard?
Umm.. we took shots. No…*laughs*… no, what did we do?

You can be honest!
I think we did, well, only two of us drink. But, we went pretty hard that night, cause we worked hard on the record. So, yeah, we just did a little bit more drinking than usual. It was my birthday, too. And we went to New Orleans the next day, so the next day we kind of went a little crazy on Bourbon Street. Yeah, that was cool.

Was it a weird feeling making it on Billboard?
Yeah, it was definitely weird. Didn’t expect that to happen at all, so I was definitely surprised.

What’s it like working with Will Yip?
Great question, Makenzie. *laughs* Well, he is one of our best friends in the whole wide world. So, it was super comfortable, super fun, which recording is never fun for me until this time around. We did our first record with Brian McTernan and with him it was like we looked up to him, like, he’s a god to us. He did some of our favorite records growing up so it was really intimidating and we weren’t comfortable to try different stuff with him. So, with Will, we got a completely new experience and it was just like we could do anything and we don’t have to worry about him judging us or being like, “No, that sucks.” I don’t know, it was just, like, crazy fun. We had a blast recording it. So, it was fun, and he was down to do anything and everything with us.

Were there any major differences in the way you wrote or recorded between the two?
Yeah, well, there’s a few things. Sorry if I get lengthy. We wrote the record in a cabin in the mountains in Pennsylvania…

The new one?
Yeah, this one. And we didn’t do that before. With Separation we kind of just wrote them after a long day of work. Kind of, like, had to force something to come out and it just didn’t work. So with this, we had all that time in the woods to just focus on the music and we’ve never had that before. So that helped a lot, and then when we recorded The Things We Think We’re Missing, we recorded the drums and bass to tape instead of digital. So, that’s how they used to do stuff, like, back in the day. It’s just a thicker more loud, in your face vibe. And I think that was a really cool approach for this record, I liked doing that. So, that, we recorded to tape. And the process was kind of like, I wrote all the lyrics in the studio, actually. I’m a last minute kind of guy, I just work better with a deadline. So I did that, too. I think those were the differences and just being with Will was so great.

Have you guys known him for a while? How did you start working together?
We have a split with Braid that we did with him, which was just two songs. But we’ve known him for the past couple years. We were itching to do a full length with him, and we’ll probably do our next with him, to be honest, too.

What’s the Off the Board Compilation about?
Well, Will is trying to get ownership to Studio 4 and it’s, like, a lot of money. And he wants to keep doing stuff for our scene in such a nice studio. That’s where Billy Joel recorded, Kris Kross, Boyz II Men, Cindy Lauper, like… it’s a cool studio. Bob Dylan… no big deal. So, he actually got offered to get half-ownership of it. So, the Off the Board is kind of like a fundraiser, and all the bands that he recorded helped him out so he can keep working there and doing stuff for our scene.

Have you noticed it going well?
I haven’t asked him, it’s only been up for two weeks. I’m just kind of letting it happen and seeing where he’s at. I don’t really know how its doing, but I hope its doing well. You should get Off the Board Compilation NOW. Today.

Who else is on it?
Title Fight, Tigers Jaw, Sainthood Reps, a whole bunch of bands. Us, Pity Sex.

Do you have any thoughts on the whole “emo revival” thing? There have been some articles…
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s due to come back, kind of, because… Well, mainstream rock, period, is disgusting right now. There’s really not any real bands or anything, like, you’ll turn on the radio and you’ll hear 30 Seconds to Mars, but that is not rock music, really. Its arena rock, it’s trying to sell records. Everything is kind of, like, dulled down just so people will accept it, and I think people have been catching on and they’re kind of craving genuine, honest music. And I think that’s why it’s catching on so much right now, and there’s so many great bands right now, it’s awesome. So, I just think people are hungry for something of substance more than just arena rock bands making songs about… I don’t know. I am not thrilled with how radio rock is right now, and it used to be awesome. And if you listen to a rock radio station now, they’re playing 90s music still. They’re still playing Alice in Chains, they’re still playing Nirvana, they’re still playing Bush. All that stuff. So, I think people just want more substance. I think that’s cool, and we’ll see if it catches on, but I don’t think any of our bands in that realm will ever be on the radio.

You’re on our station!
On your station, yes, for sure! But yeah, that’s just my two cents. I think that people just need it now.

Do you have any thoughts about the connotation behind the word emo?
I mean, if you know music, it’s not really that big of a deal, its kind of cool. But if you hear it, you know, most people are like, “Oh, you’re emo.” I don’t really care, I’d rather it just be called rock. That’s kind of what we consider ourselves.

Yeah, people are pretty picky and touchy about their genres.
Yeah, but like, even if you call it emo, is that really a big deal? Like, don’t you want your music to be emotional? Like, have some kind of value? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

I noticed the tweets, I think they were from the Balance and Composure account, about Warped Tour. Do you think you guys will ever do anything like that?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We actually just got an offer for it the other day. It’s hard to say because it’s definitely not…um… I’ll choose my words carefully. *laughs* I mean, it’s a cool thing but there are just so many…bad…bands. I don’t know, it’s just like so much of the stuff we hate in one festival, but there’s also some of our friends on it, too. So I don’t know, it would have to be a really good year if we were to ever do it. It would have to be filled with our friends and stuff so that we could kind of enjoy it. Because, otherwise, if we were doing it alone, we would lose our minds. Just because we don’t really want to appeal to the “party” rock and roll scene, you know, like the “jump up and down, have a great time!” That’s not really us, we’re more serious, I guess. We’re kind of a bummer, I don’t know if we would translate well in the Warped Tour setting. I don’t know, that’s just me being self-conscious, too. So, it’s cool for some bands and it’s not cool for others. That was deep shit right there.

Is everyone in the band a Breaking Bad fan?
Yeah! And we finished it in a hotel.

What are your feelings on the ending?
It was perfectly satisfying, everything that happened needed to happen, and it was beautiful. And I’m hardly ever satisfied after a show, so I’m really glad. I haven’t even really thought about it since.

Who’s your favorite character?
Jesse. Even though he’s a rat…or is he? I don’t know.

I love Jesse!
Yeah. Pinkman. Walter just turned into a monster.

Do you guys have any new shows that you’re going to be watching in the fall? Anything that’s taking its place?
I’m going to get into Homeland when I get home. I actually just started the Sopranos, I missed that boat and I have HBO Go now, so I’m going to. I just finished the first season and I love it, so that and Parks and Rec. I like Parks and Rec a lot. Our picks have Ron Swanson on the back. I’m proud of them. I don’t know what to do after Breaking Bad. Mad Men hopefully starts up soon.

Any Halloween costumes planned? Have you thought about it?
No, we haven’t even talked about that yet. We might dress up like girls or something.

Do you have a favorite Halloween costume that you’ve ever had?
No, I’ve always wanted to be Ace Ventura, but I never have hair long enough to do it. So, that’s my dream costume.

Are you big into Halloween at all?
I am. I like scary movies and all that stuff. I’m not that big into dressing up for it, I just think it’s a headache. I’m kind of boring like that. But yeah, I like Halloween. I like handing out candy with my mom and stuff, but I’m not going to be home this time. We’ll be in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So I don’t know what we’re going to do. I like haunted houses and hayrides, that’s my favorite thing to do in life, I think.

Do you think you guys will have time to do one while you’re on tour?
Hopefully, we have a day off in two days, maybe we can squeeze one in. I went to Eastern State Penitentiary while we were home for a couple days between tours, and that’s in Philly. It’s this haunted, closed down prison where Al Capone actually stayed. It’s pretty cool. Its one of the best haunted houses in the country.

Do they make it into an actual haunted house?
Yeah. And it’s, like, 45 minutes walking through it. It’s really good, and they can touch you. I didn’t handle it well.

After this tour, do you have any plans? Just kind of playing it by ear?
I’m doing an acoustic tour with Saves the Day and Walter from Quicksand and Rival Schools, which I’m really excited about. It’s an 8 day, I don’t even know if it comes here…

- We did some investigating, and Fusion Shows is having the show at the Loft in Lansing on 12/14 -

So I’m doing that, and the band I don’t think is doing anything. We’re playing Title Fight’s ten-year anniversary show November 30th in their hometown. And after that, I think we’re doing Australia early 2014 and Japan.

Are you excited for that?
Yeah. I’m worried about what I’m going to eat in Japan. I don’t know what I’m going to eat. I’m a picky eater so I’m nervous about that.

Alright, well, good luck at your show tonight and thank you for sitting down with us!
Thank you for having me, you guys were great.

- Makenzie McNeill

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