Max Stern is sitting in a buddy’s apartment somewhere around Brooklyn, New York and in less than 24 hours he’ll board a plane to Israel. It only seems appropriate for someone who penned an entire album themed around deconstructing the trials and constraints of distance that before he returns to Cleveland to record the follow-up to Signals Midwest’s acclaimed 2011 album, Latitudes and Longitudes, he’ll spend the next three weeks wandering around territory transatlantic.
There was a certain candidness about Signals’ sophomore effort, a frank storytelling that elevated the band to more than just reinventing the pop-punk wheel. And Stern approaches the year following its release with the same sense of devastating clarity, “2012 was a year of some incredible highs and some crushing lows.”
While the four-piece embarked on a nationwide tour and wrote their next album — one that Stern describes as “slower, darker, heavier” and interwoven with feedback, harmonies, and weirder guitar tones — September also saw the debut release from Meridian, Stern’s side project with his brother Jake five years in the making.
“The goal wasn’t to start a new band or play shows,” he explains, recounting the days he made DIY recordings on his computer as catharsis, just giving away copies at shows. He would finally settle on entering the studio in March of 2012. “It was just to get these songs out of my head that had been floating around for a few years and needed to escape.”
Stern had been teaching his brother Jake to play guitar, bonding over a shared love for their favorite band the Weakerthans. “Brotherly chemistry, I guess,” Stern jokes. Jake cut his teeth playing at home and family gatherings, learning the entire discography of the Avett Brothers, a band Stern declares without existing Meridian may have never come to be. If at times Meridian wears their influences on their sleeve, it’s because they tell a story over the past five years: this was the music Max and Jake grew up on together.
“I’m guessing it’s pretty apparent that we come from backgrounds of louder, more aggressive music, but I think that works in our favor,” says Stern, “With Signals, the number one thing I focus on during a live show is energy; it’s what I’ve always loved about punk rock. It can be sloppy or slightly out-of-tune, but as long as the energy is there then I’m happy. When Meridian started playing shows, I tried to carry that energy over and I think it changed in a way that was pretty natural.”
Aging Truths may be a sonic departure from Stern’s earlier work, but it shares the same disarming honesty Signals Midwest approaches coming-of-age. Early in the album “The Catalyst” re-explores the themes of distance Latitudes and Longitudes did so masterfully, closing with one of the album’s strongest and most vivid lines: “I think I’ve been distracted for most of my life in a scene made of pavement and yellow dashed lines / With everyone you love you leave some pieces behind”.
Spring of 2013 will see a 12” vinyl release for Aging Truths. Stern says the band is almost done writing a new EP, titled The Cathedral, he hopes to be released by the summer that’s expected to feature more instrumentation and a track called “Gabriel” that he is particularly proud of.
“I’ve written probably 20 to 30 songs since September. A lot sadder, a little wiser, more hopeful. We’ll see how it goes. One of my favorite bands, the Mountain Goats, put out a record this past year. The chorus on the first song is, ‘And stay alive, just stay alive.’”
Meridian plays at the Cleveland Hostel stage. Catch Max playing with Signals Midwest at the Joy Machines Bike Shop and Lost Jon and the Ghosts at the Brite Winter Outdoor Stage.