With last year’s Stage Four, Los Angeles–based Touché Amoré crafted a record so personal and confessional it was often almost painful, as singer Jeremy Bolm worked through some pretty devastating stuff.
In 2014, the frontman’s mother died of cancer at age 69, the actual moment of her passing coming while he was on-stage performing with the band he’s played with for the past decade. That, understandably, led to the kind of emotional fallout that sends some people directly to therapy.
Bolm was lucky in that he had an outlet for his grief—the singer eventually dealt with a whole range of emotions over the course of Stage Four’s 11 tracks. From regret at not being at his mom’s side (“Eight Seconds”) to questioning the existence of God (“Rapture”), the 34-year-old was unflinching in his honesty.
Fastforward a year, and the trauma is still real.
“It’s funny: with the subject matter of Stage Four, there’s just so much there, to where you could not only do a double album, but a triple,” the unfailingly polite singer says from home. “Anytime you think about a situation as heavy as that one, there are all kinds of different aspects to write about. I don’t know if I necessarily want to keep going in that direction, because I kind of feel like I’ve touched on it enough.”
Stage Four isn’t just a record but also something of a harrowing exorcism, Bolm screaming himself hoarse to a mix of shimmering melodic hardcore and ragingly cathartic emo. His regrets make for some of the album’s most powerful moments, such as when, in “Eight Seconds”, he recalls getting a voice message from his brother: “She passed away about an hour ago/When you were on-stage living the dream.”
There’s also plenty of serious introspection, with Bolm exploring the back story of the woman who gave birth to him in “Palm Dreams”, which delves into her move as a young woman from Nebraska to California. And then there’s the question of what kind of god would take away his mother at 69. The singer was raised as a Christian, but eventually drifted away from the church after discovering punk rock. His mom, however, never gave up the faith. That sheds an important light on “Displacement” lyrics like “She gave me her best, she swore I was her heart/I couldn’t worship the god that let her fall apart.”
“Her last days were when some of the hardest conversations came—it was a struggle between lying to her and making her happy, and me being honest with her,” Bolm says. “When you have a parent upset and on their deathbed going ‘Well, what if I never see you again?’ that’s the hardest thing to hear. In your stubborn mind you think, ‘I don’t believe there’s a heaven.’ What I struggle with, and where I still stand with a lot of things that I sing about in ‘Displacement’, is that I don’t necessarily believe in heaven, but if there is a heaven, that’s where I want her to be. I want there to be a heaven for her sake because she lived her entire life struggling with every hardship that anyone could have—raising kids on her own, getting cancer twice, losing friends—without ever losing her faith. She was on her deathbed, sick and in pain, and still not angry at God.”
One might make a case that Bolm has plenty to be angry about, given everything that went down in 2014. Stage Four is indeed a record with no shortage of ozone-crackle rage, but for the first time the frontman is as comfortable singing as he is screaming, as is most evident on the ethereal comedown “Skyscraper”, which has him duetting with punk-folk upstart Julien Baker. Had Stage Four ended up a double—or triple—album, chances are that Touché Amoré would have branched out in directions that seemed unfathomable on early outings like …To the Beat of a Dead Horse.
“I’d been so wrapped up in everything that happened that I totally forget, for someone who’s been following the band, that some of what we did was totally different,” Bolm says. “To go back to when we started writing the record, there was the conversation of how pretty much all of our peers have gotten a bit softer. That’s not a problem—that’s totally cool. We still love aggressive music, but it’s not all that we listen to, so why not write stuff that reflects who you are?”
Touché Amoré plays the Vogue Theatre on Friday (September 15) as part of the Westward Music Festival.