Cast and Present

The Appleseed Cast embarks on new sonic expedition


Chris Crisci and Aaron Pillar

In a one-handed count of Lawrence bands whose last two records have each sold over 25,000 copies, you’d likely have fingers left over.

"Very few bands from this area have had the worldwide impact of The Appleseed Cast," says producer Ed Rose. "I get emails from all over the world asking about AC records. Kids in Europe are nuts for them."

Chris Crisci and Aaron Pillar formed The Appleseed Cast in North Carolina eleven years ago, moving to Lawrence in 1999. This week they release their eighth album, “Sagarmatha.”

Like their previous releases, the latest is stratified music, effects-heavy and exuberant, opulent, and faintly anthemic. A song, for Crisci and Pillar, is a series of movements—vocals, if necessary, are just another instrument of evocation. Only one song on “Sagarmartha,” the brief and shimmering “The Summer Before,” follows the verse-chorus-verse format.

These two “musician’s musicians” joined us to preview their latest release.

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Podcast episode

Street Level

Cast and Present: An Interview with The Appleseed Cast

Tom King visits with the venerable Lawrence band to discuss its new album "Sagarmatha."

Download podcast Your producer, Ed Rose, said he’s impressed with your willingness to combine old and new technologies. What did he mean by that?

Crisci: I don’t know (laughs). What do you think, Aaron?

Pillar: Our willingness to use goofball drums, weird microphone set-ups...

Crisci: We were adamant about using tape, back in the day, when everything was being recorded on ProTools.

“Sagarmatha,” it’s the Nepalese name for Mount Everest.

Pillar: In Hindu, it’s the “Mother of the Universe,” and in Sanskrit it’s the “Eye of the Mother,” or “Eye of the Universe.”

Crisci: We just converted so we’re still getting used to the language (laughter).

Converted? To Hinduism?

Crisci: Not really (laughter).

How does the title relate to the new record?

Pillar: We were halfway through the song structure and we didn’t have an album title … There was a book out called “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer—I read the thing seven times while on tour [in Europe, 2001]. I got crazy about mountain climbing and I spun some ridiculous stories about how I was going to start climbing mountains. Chris and I have always chatted about how crazy the guys are that climb those kind of mountains. I thought the name could be a good allegory … It’s a weird enough name that could mean a lot of things to a lot of people. We like to be a little ambiguous.

Your lyrics aren’t necessarily in the “verse-chorus-verse” format.

Crisci: Not so much. We have a handful of songs out of 70 or 80 songs that are verse-chorus-verse … I think you have to strive to do that, to purposely do that, and I’ve never cared to do that. I get bored with it.

Pillar: I think we do it when it makes sense. From the second record, “Mare Vitalis,” the thought has always been to put the vocals where there should be vocals, not where there’s supposed to be vocals … Chris always has the last call on vocals because he has to sing them … They’re usually done after the music—I think most bands don’t do that. They usually have a vocal idea. We get too caught up in writing music.

Past Event

The Appleseed Cast / Cowboy Indian Bear / The Sailor Sequence

  • Saturday, March 7, 2009, 10 p.m.
  • Jackpot Music Hall, 943 Mass., Lawrence
  • 18+ / $8 - $10


Where do you think popular music is going?

Crisci: Definitely stagnating. I don’t know where it’s going.

Are you taking it there?

Crisci: No (laughter). No one’s going to listen to us. We have our small group of people that like us. It grows a little bit every year, but it’s never going to be significant on a mass-market scale.

Pillar: I think right now it’s the trend thing that’s killing it. It seems like bands now just pick a genre, something 20 years ago, and say “OK, we’ll get into that.” ...Some bands are really good at it.

Crisci: Is the novelty of fashion rock wearing off yet? I remember when the Strokes came out and everyone was all about fashion rock.

The Strokes were called fashion rock?

Crisci: That’s what I call them (laughter).

There are two other people in the room here: John Momberg of Kelpie and the Dactyls on drums, and Nate Whitman of Black Christmas on bass.

Momberg: For me, when I want to go see a rock band, I want to see a band—I don’t really want to see computers that often. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, but I think that’s what people think of as progressive: “OK, we’re adding computers.” Some of it’s necessary because that’s the way music is today, but I don’t think computers are going to push music forward.

Pillar: People try and do the combo hip-hop-rock thing which usually fails but sometimes is kind of cool. I think it’s in that infancy stage where experiments are failing … I don’t know what it’s going to be--when I hear it I’ll know, and I’ll be really happy about it.

Crisci: It’s a new voice that usually changes things, a unique sound.

Pillar: Kurt Cobain. I wouldn’t be in this room otherwise. That, and I bought a “Jawbreaker” CD for 99 cents. Because of those two things, I thought it was cool to play guitar.

Crisci: He could sing like hell.

Are you now supporting yourselves as musicians?

Pillar: Chris ekes it out because of the mixing thing. I’m working a day job. I prefer where we’re at right now, which is like a really great part-time job. If I can take a tour like this three times a year and work my other job, then I’ve had a good year … To be able to do art all day, every day—that would be really great.

How much time do you spend on the road?

Pillar: In 2006 we did eight months of touring. Now we break it up: three weeks on tour, a month off, then a month back out...

Crisci: The years that we spent at least six months on the road, we’ve been so burnt out at the end of it. There were a lot of times when it wasn’t even enjoyable. There are so many better ways to make money if it’s just about a paycheck. So you have to enjoy it, you have to break it up to keep it fresh.


The Appleseed Cast is (L to R): Chris Crisci, John Momberg, Aaron Pillar and Nate Whitman.

You can’t force inspiration.

Pillar: We had a discussion about this the other day, that if it became solely about money and not about playing music every night, then I can’t do it. If it gets to the point where you’re counting heads in the audience, that’s so shitty. I want to feel like that doesn’t matter.


jerett fulton 13 years, 2 months ago

congrats on the new record boys! i'm glad our studio could help out with such a great record! also, the lmt. edition graveface vinyl is sick!!! thanks! good luck with all you do! jerett, mixtape soundlab recording studio

cutny 13 years, 2 months ago

Nice article. Since moving from Lawrence, I read about more local bands than I see or hear. Been reading about this one for a while, so it's nice that they are still around and enjoying what they do.

Re: the number of bands from the area that have sold more than 25,000 records. You should do some fact checking. The statement's not even remotely accurate.

jamie_3871 13 years, 2 months ago

Note to cutny: The article's writer was referring not to all Lawrence bands that have EVER sold more than 25,000 albums, but merely to those "whose LAST TWO have EACH sold" more than that amount. If you use that standard, I think Mr. King's statement is probably fairly accurate. I don't think there would be more than four or five of them who have done so (like maybe the Get Up Kids, The Anniversary, the aforementioned Appleseed Cast, and maybe one or two other ones). But if you know of several other Lawrence bands that have, feel free to list them here.

jamie_3871 13 years, 2 months ago

Note to Chris Crisci: The Strokes as “fashion rock”? Since The Appleseed Cast have (or at least HAD) been long considered part of the now-maligned “emo” genre, the old adage “people who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones” applies. Also, isn’t the constant wearing of wool hats when it’s not even cold outside (or indoors, for that matter) just a silly hipster fashion trend?

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