If life is a collection of moments, it needs a soundtrack that's as fluid and dynamic as the experiences it encompasses—and with their first full-length Bloom & Breathe, the New Brunswick, New Jersey five-piece Gates fit that role. After releasing two well-received EPs (2011's The Sun Will Rise And Lead Me Home & 2013's You Are All You Have Left To Fear) the band painstakingly began work on their new album, which features sonic ideas that span the past seven years, yet fit together in a remarkably cohesive way. Moreover they manage to represent the vast scope of emotions that all of us struggle with as we try to survive milestone moments in our lives, and inspire awe as much as they make us question the meaning behind life itself.
Guitarist Dan King, bassist Mike Maroney and drummer Daniel Crapanzano were playing in a previous band and decided they wanted to start a new project in 2011. Eventually they hooked up with guitarist Ethan Koozer—who had moved to New Jersey from Nebraska—and guitarist/vocalist Kevin Dye, who had recently relocated to the East coast from Michigan. "Those two members were from completely different parts of the country as opposed to the three of us who were living in Jersey, and I think that really helped us have this aesthetic that's based on all these different influences," King explains. "When we started writing together it was clear that we were all coming from different places but we still had a lot of common ground."
Another trait the members of Gates share is their tireless work ethic, which helps the listener understand how they were able to craft 53 minutes of epic-post rock for Bloom & Breathe. "At the time we were writing the album, I worked at a laundromat. Three days a week I would drive through rush hour traffic to practice in their basement, working out parts on an electronic drum kit and combo amps to see how they fit together," Dye explains, adding that the process from writing to mastering took two years. "A decent chunk of this record centered around the coolest riffs that were just been sitting around for years—and making the two EPs together, we definitely got into the groove of having three guitars and simplifying our parts to make all of the instruments work together as opposed to layering sounds all over the place."
Bloom & Breathe also marks the first time that this incredibly self-sufficient act—who handle everything from their artwork to mixing—brought someone else into the fold in the form of Mike Watts (As Tall As Lions, As Cities Burn), who co-produced the album with Dye during a six-week recording session at Vudu Studios in Port Jefferson, New York. "It was sort of like Mike became the sixth member of Gates. He was really quick with everything and his insight made so much sense," King explains. "He knew what amp and guitar to capture the tone of every part and I think it shows in the recording; it was nice working with someone we completely trusted who could really dissect the music from an outsider's point of view."
From the awe-inspiring opening interlude "Everything That Ever Has Been" to the final notes of the tension-shifting outro "Everything That Always Will Be," Bloom & Breathe is a sonic passport that takes the listener on an emotional journey that's difficult to articulate via words. However, despite the impressive arrangements on songs like "Bloom," at its core the album is composed of guitar, bass and drums with no extraneous instrumentation. "I look at what we can do with three guitars as a challenge that pushes us forward," Dye explains. "Instead of playing a Rhodes piano I want to figure out how we can create that sound using effects," he adds. "I think that limitation allows us to manipulate the traditional rock outfit because we're forced to really mold the aspect of the band that defines us."
Then again, for every shimmering anthem like "Born Dead" there's a song like "Marrow" which introduces a new vulnerability to Gates' sound. "We're obviously capable of making giant walls of sound but we wanted to see if we could also write a good song that's just a voice and an acoustic guitar," Dye says. On the opposite end of the spectrum lies a track like the ambient, Deftones-inspired "At Last The Loneliest Of Them." "I've had the idea of this song in the back of my head for seven years, and for these guys to add their parts to it and have it finally come to life was such an incredible experience," he continues, adding that the song has a heaviness that may surprise some Gates fans upon a cursory listen.
Lyrically the album sees Dye grappling with philosophic questions that go far beyond typical songwriting fare and tackle issues that humanity has been struggling with since the start of existence. "This album is very personal to me. I waited until about a month before we went into the studio to finalize the lyrics because I wanted them to have a unified theme that mirrored the tone of the songs," Kevin explains. "At the time, I was grappling with the meaning of life and what you can possibly do to feel like you're actually living instead of letting everything pass you by," he continues—and when you hear Dye's voice crack while screaming on the aforementioned "At Last The Loneliest Of Them" it's a primal rage that taps into something far bigger than music.
Then there is Gates' live show, which is a high-energy experience featuring lights that the band build, and is as intense and epic as the music they create. "When I'm not working at my job to make money I'm working on how I can improve what we're doing as a band," Dye explains, adding that the band make everything themselves from imagery and photography to graphic design for T-shirts. "Nothing is ever handed off completely and we want our hands on everything from the music to the overall aesthetic," King summarizes. "We put everything that we had into this album, we questioned every note on the record, and we feel that this is the best result we could have made."
"I'm more alive than I've ever been in my whole life," Dye sings at one point during the album—and despite the occasional moment of existential angst, that sentiment sums up the feeling that lies at the core of Bloom & Breathe. So stop reading... and start living.