Framework – Ascending the Divide

Thursday, 9th November 2017

When it comes to melodic death/thrash, the prevalent scene may still reside on European shores, but there is a fair amount of action bubbling around the United States. Framework represent one of the new guard from New Jersey – with origins going as far back as the mid 2000’s under the moniker Exorbitance. Framework essentially started anew in 2013 – releasing a debut album A World Distorted the following year and the band would hit the road when they could – including a brief stint across the East Coast with Armageddon (featuring guitarist Chris Amott).

Three years later we finally get the follow-up, an outstanding EP entitled Where We Divide. Not content to rest on their creative laurels, much of the material continues to challenge the parameters of progressive, melodic death/thrash – injecting a sense of atmosphere and texture that balances out the aggression with that mature sophistication you hope from musicians as they gain more seasoning and experience. Feeling the need to learn more about the group (and starting out the conversation with a great ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage impression for you old wrestling mavens), drummer James Applegate let us in on the history of the band, the personal setbacks that caused a bit of delay in the EP release, thoughtful discussion on the changing consumption habits of metalheads these days, and some healthy drummer/metal release discussion.

Dead Rhetoric: What was your personal journey like discovering music and heavy metal? How did you make the step up to picking up an instrument and then performing in bands?

James Applegate: That’s a fairly long story, but I’ll try to condense it. When I was a kid, I was in a Catholic school, and I didn’t really have many friends. I was relatively lonely, and I made a connection with the music teacher at my school. He happened to have a practice space/recording studio a minute walk from the school. He invited me over because he wanted to show me something- and that something was a black Yahama drum set. He showed me a couple of rudiments, and a couple of really basic rock songs (from) The Doors, The Band, and a basic 12-bar blues. I didn’t know it was called that, but he showed me how to play. It became an obsession after that, constantly trying to learn to play new stuff- but I was nine, so what I was listening to at the time was whatever was on the radio.

Now how I got into heavier music, I remember I was doing marching band and I noticed that everyone else had better chops than me. I was listening to the radio- and I was on the internet and I started checking out all these different bands. I started listening to Metallica- and as soon as I heard that, I said ‘oh hell yeah- this is great!’. Back in 2002 what used to be really good for music research was the Yahoo! Music (channel). They would have all these music videos and I would watch the live videos of Metallica playing. This music is the music I had to play. As time goes on, you get more and more curious about heavier music and things like that- I got into Slipknot, Lamb of God, and then I watched this group called Vörnagar- they were this melodic death metal group out of Los Gatos, California. They tore it up, they were so good- the drummer (Marco Pitruzzella) went on to play in Brain Drill and Sleep Terror, things like that. That band opened the floodgates for me- after that it was over. This is what I like, I have been constantly looking for more.

Dead Rhetoric: Can you inform the readers of how the previous band Exorbitance developed into Framework back in 2013 – and where do you see the differences between the two bands as far as style and songwriting?

Applegate: Exorbitance started as Andrew Pevny’s baby. He was the sole guy who did everything with that group. He was the singer at one point, he wrote all the tunes, and people came and went in the band, but it was still his band. At one point in time, the lineup for Exorbitance was myself, Devin the current bassist on guitar, Tom Smith Jr. who currently plays in The Acacia Strain, and this guy Ish on vocals. That was Andrew’s group, and once I came into the group I started writing with the band. Once everyone else started becoming more comfortable with what kind of sounds we wanted, we started developing things jointly. How I sort of look at it as Exorbitance was one sort of brainchild whereas Framework is a band. A lot of the stuff still comes from Andrew’s brain, but it’s more of a band situation.

Dead Rhetoric: Your debut full-length A World Distorted hit the streets in early 2014. How do you feel the songwriting and recording sessions went for this effort – any surprises, obstacles, or challenges take place, and how do you feel about the record this many years down the road?

Applegate: Recording the album was a lot of fun because we recorded it at Trax East Studios- which in New Jersey is a big deal. It’s where Symphony X records their stuff, the new The Black Dahlia Murder album, some of it was done there. When you are younger, and you are looking for these validating music experiences, you have your first weekend tour, you are in your first real studio, things like that. It was very impressive to us for that. We think the songs have aged fairly well. The thing with music and songs is you record them at one point in time but after you play them again for another two or three years, you hear moments in a song that you didn’t realize before. When we play the songs live now, we do a lot of things differently than we did on the record. They are still evolving, which is very nice.

In terms of issues with recording, not really. We are pretty thorough when it comes to our recording process, because we always start by demoing everything like crazy. We also have very thorough pre-production- we basically go in and record this thing twice. What kind of solos we are going to be doing, sometimes they are written out, sometimes they are not. You know exactly what kind of beats are going to be where, you know everything you are doing. There wasn’t any of this ‘I haven’t exactly figured this part out yet’. That hasn’t happened once at a Framework session.

Dead Rhetoric: At the beginning of 2015, you embarked on a two-week East Coast tour run with Armageddon – how do you feel these shows went, what were the highlights, and what do you feel you learned most being on the road that strengthened the chemistry and outlook of Framework?

Applegate: One of the things about that tour that was really cool is it sort of started a friendship between Armageddon and Framework. Andrew from Framework now plays bass for Armageddon, that’s super cool. A bunch of the guys in Armageddon, along with Andrew and myself, will be putting a live only band that’s going to be doing some cool stuff- but until it gets a little further along I won’t go too deep into that. The friendships we got out of it were really the highlights. In terms of performing, it was cool to see a band like that filled with guys… you have Chris Amott, who honestly is an amazing guitarist and a really cool guy, playing with some amazing musicians. Chris is a couple of years older than us, but the other guys were generally younger, so it was inspiring to see.

It forced us to learn how to really tighten a live set. You can’t just play the same seven songs the same way every single night on the road- you’ll get bored. Fatigue kind of kicks in both physically and mentally- so we swapped out some tunes. We are already planning our live set for the spring and summer shows, we would like to do two more tours for this upcoming year- and we are already figuring out which sets we will be performing, so we can keep the mental fatigue out.

Dead Rhetoric: Your latest EP is Where We Divide – can you inform the readers of some of the personal obstacles, setbacks, and losses that took place that caused a bit of delay in getting this out to the public? Do you believe that you channeled some of that pain and frustration in this new output?

Applegate: Well, I can only speak for myself- but I know that everyone in the band experienced some degree of loss during this recording process. I finished recording my drum parts, and then a couple of weeks later, we will be releasing a playthrough video of one song soon that everyone else appears in the video except for me – the reason was once my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, two weeks later he passed away. Luckily I was done recording drums, but from that point I was not playing a role in anything. I needed to make sure my ducks were in a row, be with my family, and make sure I’m okay and still capable of doing all the things that I need to do. My performance, I wasn’t thinking of my dad at the time because he wasn’t sick when I was recording my stuff. From the moment he was diagnosed to right now, I think about him and I try to put even more of myself into every performance because I feel like if there’s any chance he could be watching- I’m not saying I’m spiritual or anything like that- but I want to perform at a higher level to make him proud.

Andrew’s grandfather also passed away, who he was incredibly close with, and our newest guitarist Andrew O’Connor, his grandmother passed away during this entire process. Everyone dealt with their stuff. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it is a reality. As life goes on, we loss people that are close to us- and it’s the people around us and those support systems we have that really strengthen us both as individuals and as a group. I’m just happy that the people that helped me pull through, I’m able to perform at an even better level thanks to their support.

Dead Rhetoric: The five tracks appear to balance your conventional melodic thrash/death metal style with a bit more dynamic progressive experimentation, going in more atmospheric, rhythmic, and groove-like directions. Will Framework continue to develop its music in varied directions as you gather more seasoning, experience, and influences?

Applegate: Oh, for sure. We are not huge fans of repetition. Obviously, we have repetitive parts in our music, but you can hear that although a lot of these songs clearly sound like Framework – we all really like pushing the envelope and we all really like different styles of music. One day someone will come in and say they’ve been listening a lot to Jinjer, and they will come in with a riff like that, and everyone will put their two cents in to flesh it out, and have a track that sounds like us but in a slightly different direction. Someone will bring in a Pat Metheny groove, and then something will go in that direction.

Dead Rhetoric: I know that you went to Berklee College of Music, but have any of the other guys sought out advance music education or training?

Applegate: Andrew the lead guitarist is a Berklee alum as well. He and I were friends before going to Berklee, we played in Exorbitance together. We got into Berklee at the same time, lived together, and started to write together constantly. We graduated and still work together. When we were at Berklee for those three years, we were basically married- we would travel to school together, come home together- we were going to the same gigs. Devin the bassist has a high school education, but his music program was one of the best in the state. Which is very cool. O’Connor he teaches, he’s solid- and Glen played the saxophone when he was in the fifth grade. So I suppose we all have a little bit inside of us.

Dead Rhetoric: Does the band place an equal emphasis on the lyrical themes/content development as you do on the music? Is there a lot of trial and error taking place to develop the vocal patterns and occasional variance from the aggressive/extreme approach?

Applegate: I don’t play a big role in the lyrics, but I know how Glen tends to write is we present him with an idea and work in progress- and then he’ll see in what direction it takes him. He’s quite a talented writer, he does things for Weird NJ- which I don’t expect anyone outside of New Jersey to understand that reference. Weird NJ is basically this serial publication that puts out a monthly magazine. They visit haunted areas around the state, weird happenings, and then write about them. The demoing process, we will think about how (the lyrics) fit with the riffs, how this works, how that works- we might think about this rhythm might be changed as well.

Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Framework in a live setting – and what have been some of your favorite show memories over the years?

Applegate: Framework live is fun. We take it pretty seriously, but we also try to entertain at the same time. That being said, we try to put on the tightest show we can, while entertaining at the same time. I think the other guys agree- if you listen to the music, you can tell these nerds have to practice to get this tight. That’s one part of it- to be able to play music well live, you have to know it plus perform it. In terms of favorite shows, a show we played in North Carolina on the No Dead Weight tour was pretty club. It was a massive, giant venue- and no one was there! (laughs) Because it was one of those deals where they had locals on the bill, but the locals just bought all the tickets. We played really tight. Anytime we’ve played Roxy and Dukes in Deland, New Jersey we’ve felt good about. There are a lot of good times with these guys on stage.

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