For the first time in their careers, ERRA feel they have the room to do what they want. Since 2009, the Birmingham, Alabama, melodic metalcore crew have worked hard to hone their sound into something undeniably theirs, in which fans can immediately identify themselves. But wit their upcoming new record, ERRA decided to throw away the rulebook and stop trying to play according to what they, or others, might perceive as their necessary strengths. The result is the band’s self-titled new album, which features the final form of their patented mixture of soaring melody and bruising heaviness.
“I think we’re a band who in the past has been susceptible to the pressure that comes with pleasing the audience based on how the last record sounded,” says guitarist and clean vocalist Jesse Cash. “This time around, I think we’ve finally figured out how to in a healthy way break free of that and kind of just do what felt right. And the art and all the visuals we’ve had accompanying it are kind of a rebrand — we’ve simplified everything to elevate our music. Self-titling it kind of serves that same purpose.”
Was stepping away from that level of self-consciousness something you came into this album wanting to do, or did it come out over time?
We can’t help but think about how people are going to hear it. We want people to be happy. But it just didn’t feel like that was limiting. That can often be sort of limiting — you’ll question good ideas that you have, and you’ll start thinking, Okay, maybe this good idea doesn’t match up with what ERRA is supposed to be, and I think that kind of thought it limiting. I think that if it’s cool, no matter how it sounds, if it works in the context of the song and serves the song, I think you should just roll with it. If it’s good music, and it’s written with good intentions, I think people will grow with it.
Is there a song or a part of the album that you think best exemplifies that?
I’m stoked for people to hear the entire record, obviously, but for me, my favorite track is No. 9, called “Vanish Canvas.” I feel like that song is where the heart and soul of the record lies. I really ties the room together. So I’m really excited for people to hear that song specifically.
Conversely, what’s a song on the record that you think will surprise your fanbase?
When I think about the quote-unquote risky songs, I think we’ve released a couple of them as singles — “Scorpion Hymn” is different for us, the song “Memory Fiction” is different for us. And then we have songs like “Divisionary,” that aren’t necessarily different for us — it sounds like a formula, it sounds like a song we’ve tried out in the past, but the thing that makes a song like that different this time around is that there are choices made within the song that wouldn’t have been made on previous records.
If I compared a song like “Divisionary” to a song on our record Drift, “Luminesce,” they kind of follow a similar formula — singing verses, creaming pre-chorus, singing chorus. And that wasn’t intentional — I just picked up on that after the songs were done. But in “Luminesce,” we had that pressure around the bridge to make it an ERRA song and include a breakdown there, whereas this time around, it just didn’t feel appropriate to take that song in that direction. There was a pressure to be heavy because of the band that we are, because we’re a metal band, but it just felt like that didn’t really serve the song this time around. There’s a lot of songs on the record that are sort of ERRA songs but which we didn’t want to sell short by forcing in sections that kind of appease the metal band trope. It’s 100% a metal record, it’s just that a song like that, it might not need to go heavy. And if it’s a super heavy song, it doesn’t need to go soft.
Did you ever catch yourself having to reel things back — thinking, As much as I want to go full Cannibal Corpse here, it needs to remain an Erra album?
On this record, no. We just didn’t reel it back. That’s part of why we were enticed by the idea of “Scorpion Hymn” being a single. That song is heavier than anything that we’ve done. I don’t sing on it, at all — it’s the first time in eight years that I haven’t sung on a song, because it just didn’t really make sense. My voice is what it is, it’s a high-range, melodious sort of style, and that song’s not a melodic song, it’s a heavy, aggressive song. So I just comfortably took a step back from that. If we had those impulses to just be heavy, we did that on this record.
There’s a song on the album inspired by Aokigahara, the infamous Japanese suicide forest. Can you tell me about that?
We went to Japan in September 2018, and played a festival with Crystal Lake. One of the guys from their team was our guide while we were out there. We had the day off, and I mentioned to him that I was really interested in going to Aokigahara. He was down, and that was such a cool experience, and one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done.
I had no intentions of writing a song about that, but that idea actually came up because I was having writer’s block. We were in the studio recording the record, and usually the way it goes is when we go into the studio, all the instruments are done, but the lyrics, melodies, and patterns are written while we’re there. I had to write lyrics and melodies to the song “Electric Twilight” that night. We were out of time — I had to record them the next day or the day after. And sometimes I’ll try weird stuff to get out of it…
I’m a little self-conscious saying this, because I don’t want it to sound like some pretentious artist’s story, but I grabbed an ink pen and just traced the lines on my palm. And I looked at my palm like a Rorschach test, just trying to make any images in my mind. And the N shape that was on my palm sort of looked like a mountain, and I thought about Mount Fuji, and I thought about going to Aokigahara and seeing Mount Fuji, and I started thinking about psychedelic drugs, particularly acid, and I thought, Man, how crazy would it be to do acid in the suicide forest? And that was it. It was kind of tongue-in-cheek, and I was a little on the fence about writing a tongue-in-cheek lyric about such a dark place.
The band hails from Alabama originally, but don’t sound like what I think of when I think of rock music from Alabama. Does being from Birmingham inspire you, and if so, how?
Three of the five of us are from Alabama, and I can speak for myself and say that I love Alabama…but if I’m being totally honest? As far as the music scene and our music within the context of the Birmingham scene, I feel no emotional connection. And I think if the other two guys were here, they’d feel similarly. A band like ours coming out of Birmingham is absolutely uncommon. When we were in our local scene, we were the only band who was actively touring and trying to do it professionally who sounded like us. We were always the outliers. There wasn’t anything cool about ERRA in the context of Birmingham when we got started. And I have no distaste for Birmingham at all — I don’t care — but any connection that I have with it is unconnected to my beginnings in music.
ERRA’s self-titled album drops March 19th via UNFD, and is available for preorder.
Words by Chris Krovatin