20 years is a long time between records. Few people know that better than the members of City Of Caterpillar, who are about to release their second album two decades after their first.
When guitarist/vocalist Brandon Evans, guitarist Jeff Kane, drummer Ryan Parrish and bassist/vocalist Kevin Longendyke unveiled their self-titled debut in 2002, their emotional, frenzied and often cinematic music was at the vanguard of the burgeoning screamo movement. Along with bands like Pg.99 (with whom they shared members), Majority Rule, Planes Mistaken For Stars and others, they helped develop a style of music that took hardcore into convulsive new territory.
Though they received their share of accolades, City Of Caterpillar often played in small venues to modest crowds. It’s only in hindsight that their legend has grown. “We didn’t get that much attention back then,” Evans acknowledges. “But the whole scene was cool. It was tight, it was a community, but it’s not like it was big. People got exposed to us afterwards, when the Internet blew up. It became like a cult thing.”
When City Of Caterpillar decided to play a reunion show in 2016, they figured they’d do something low-key in their hometown of Richmond, VA. Due to overwhelming demand, that show became an East Coast tour. Followed by a European tour. Followed by a Japanese tour. “We thought we’d do a show in Virginia and our friends would come,” Evans recalls. “When it turned into all this other stuff, it made me feel like the time and energy we put into this when we started was worth more than I ever could have known. We had no idea people cared.”
After years spent living in other parts of the country and playing in other bands—including Darkest Hour, Malady and Ghastly City Sleep—all four members were back in Richmond. Sure enough, the reunion shows snowballed into writing sessions. “We were having fun being around each other and making music again,” Evans explains. “What never changed is that we’re all still friends. We still enjoy similar music, though we’ve grown our palettes for sure. It became this challenge of, ‘Can we make something that would be just as impactful 20 years later and not feel redundant?’”
The answer is a resounding yes. City Of Caterpillar’s new album, Mystic Sisters, recaptures the magic of old while taking the band’s music into exciting new territory. “We’ve all been working on our craft, even though we weren’t a band for many years,” Kane says. “It feels a lot more focused and intentional than it was back in the day. Now we know how to play better and construct songs better, so this is the next step for us. We’re not doing it as a retro kind of thing.”
Tracked primarily at Montrose Recording in Richmond, Mystic Sisters was self-produced by the band and then mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, Bosse-de-Nage). “In the big picture, we’re trying to be deeper about our emotional choices within tones, textures, lyrics and vocals,” Evans explains. “But we’re trying to keep that energetic, youthful rawness. The idea is to make it show that 20 years have passed, but also make it seem like this record could’ve come out right after the other one.”
Of all the songs on Mystic Sisters, lead single “Decider” probably has the most in common with City Of Caterpillar circa 2002. Which makes sense, given that its lyrical content revolves around some of the band’s old friends and tour mates who have since passed. “It’s basically about Planes Mistaken For Stars, and Gared [O’Donnell] having cancer and dying and Matt [Bellinger] dying. Ryan came up with the concept and I helped him flesh it out. It’s about waking up one day, looking around and thinking, ‘Where did everybody go?’ You’re getting more and more alone as you get older. But Gared sparked it. We actually dedicated the record to him and Planes.”
The winding and atmospheric title track embodies City Of Caterpillar’s experimental side and features some noise violin from Evans’ former Pg. 99 bandmate Johnny Ward. “With this song, we’re creating longer dynamics and prettier parts within the spastic-ness,” he says. “It’s probably what people consider the ‘post-rock’ side of us. The song is a journey, though—you can get lost, come back, get lost and come back over and over. There’s a lot of texture and synth stuff, along with Johnny’s violin in the background. Lyrically, it’s about tapping into the ancient energy of the past and about how in the end we’re all more connected than we could ever know.”
The album’s second song, “Paranormaladies,” combines a supernatural experience with a nod to one of his bandmates’ other projects. “It’s about ghosts,” Evans says. “My stepdad came back to me once. I put on his shirt one day after I moved back to Richmond, and I just started feeling his presence. I also think the song has kind of a Malady vibe, the band that Jeff and Kevin and others were in after City of Caterpillar.”
Ultimately, City of Caterpillar are more concerned with creating a mood than telling a story. “The band is always focused on mood,” Evans confirms. “To me, that’s the most important thing. I don’t really want people dissecting what we’re trying to say, because it’s not really about us. It never has been. What we cared about 20 years ago was innocent, raw emotion, and that’s what we care about now.”