So says affable Poison the Well drummer Chris Hornbrook on the eve of his band’s fifth full-length, The Tropic Rot (released by Ferret Music last week). Having survived six record labels (including a one-album stint with big boys Atlantic) and a Spinal Tap-worthy revolving door of band members (28 at last count) in their 12-year history, PTW are about to unleash a collection of boldly eclectic post-hardcore music that’s as proud and adventurous as anything they—or almost anyone else for that matter—has created to date.
“We pretty much started off as just a bunch of kids playing hardcore,” Hornbrook recalls. “But we wanted to mix melody with heavy music and it just evolved from there. When we started this band, I think [guitarist] Ryan [Primack] was the only one who listened to other things—Rush and ’70s progressive music. So from there it took off—like, wow, there’re other genres of music: there’s jazz; there’s straight-ahead rock; there’s electronic. There’s all these really cool other things that are very eye-opening and we just started incorporating certain aspects of these types of music into what we do—always keeping an open mind. It doesn’t have to follow a formula; it doesn’t have to be conservative.”
That pretty much personifies what these Floridians (completed by longtime vocalist Jeffrey Moreira and newbies Bradley Grace and Brad Clifford on bass and guitar, respectively) have done and continue to do. Make no mistake, this is a heavy band that your mom won’t be sticking on the stereo anytime soon—the brutish riffs and poltergeist vocals of PTW’s hardcore roots still haunt their sound—but Poison the Well are seeking that ultimate alchemy of muscle, melody and variety. Between them, the band listens to sepia-toned country, bell-bottomed classic rock and rave-ready electronica, and are fans of the likes of Jeff Buckley and The Smiths. The Tropic Rot is a monument to Poison the Well’s wide-open ears: Much of “When You Lose, I Lose As Well” could’ve come straight from a Doves record; “Antarctica Inside Me” plays proud tribute to The Beatles.
The bewildering array of musicians who’ve served PTW has only swollen their sonic palette, mulls Hornbrook.
“At certain points I think it’s been an inconvenience, but also it always gives us a little bit of freshness to our band—bringing in these people with their different perspectives and collaborating with them and taking some of their ideas and growing and learning from them.”
But after years of being a creative core of Hornbrook, Primack and Moreira augmented by fly-by-night sidemen, Poison The Well may be finally congealing into a true five-piece band.
“Where we’re at right now, with the two Brads, they’re actual members of the band, so we feel really comfortable with them and what they bring to the table,” Hornbrook continues. “It definitely helped us with our new record and helped push us to the next level. The Tropic Rot was written with all five of us . . . At first it was a learning curve because there’re two people who you’ve never written music with before and we all had our different ideas of what we wanted to accomplish with this records, but they definitely brought very cool things to the table and it felt really good, the end product of writing with them.”
Indeed the “two Brads” weren’t shy about throwing in their 2 cents-worth: It was Clifford who wanted to push for more dynamics within each song, rather than song-by-song (as on their previous album, 2007’s Versions), and this is one of the key differences between the two discs.
Ironically, Poison the Well has endured by prioritizing expression over career. Having weathered a less-than-positive major label experience (Atlantic wanted them to “play ball and be a pop-rock band” according to Hornbrook), expect them to be around for a good while yet and on their own terms.
“Things go up and things go down,” the drummer concludes. “I’d like to think that we’re about to embark on a period when our band will pick up again.”
Poison The Well, part of the “10 for $10 Hardcore Summer” tour alongside Bane, Madball, Terror, War Of Ages, This Is Hell, Death Before Dishonor, Trapped Under Ice, The Ghost Inside and Monument To Thieves, at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us, Wed, July 22. Doors open 3PM, $10.