Interview with Capstan's Joe Mabry

Post-hardcore band Capstan is ready to return with their second full-length album, SEPARATE, on July 23rd with Fearless Records. Lead guitarist and songwriter Joe Mabry had a challenging few years in his personal life before writing this album. Going through a divorce and navigating his way through depression took its toll on him, resulting in his writing nearly all of SEPARATE himself after previously sharing the songwriting duties with his bandmates. The result is an intensely personal and cathartic release for him. The band's sound has evolved on this new album, they have several stellar collaborations on SEPARATE, and they are ready to reach the next level. Joe and I sat down over a video chat on Zoom and talked about the writing process of this album, how it helped him emotionally, and what fans can expect going forward.

Full band press photo for Florida progressive post-hardcore band Capstan.

I watched the new video for "blurred around the edges," and I thought that was a great song. Can you talk about that song a little bit? J: Yeah, that's actually one of the songs that mean the most to me, personally, on the record. That song was the last one that I wrote for the record. We had pretty much all the other songs solidified and locked in, and I kinda thought maybe it would be cool to write a raw, older-style Capstan song for the record. For writing the rest of the album, all the lyrics and music and all the work we put into things after quarantine started, it was a really down point in my life. So this song is all about depression and the various negative ways its impacted and affected me. It was a really good outlet to be able to talk about and write about it.


You mentioned that this was a rough period in your life. Many times, that results in the best music, but it's also very cathartic to channel that energy into something. Did you find that writing SEPARATE was challenging or helpful for getting through this period?


J: Yeah, I went through a divorce. I was married for four years. It was a very long-term relationship, and a lot of the songs are specifically about that, our relationship. A lot of the other songs, the ones about feeling depressed and sort of disassociated, that vague sense of feeling like you're not living your truth, that's what that song [blurred around the edges] really ties into, as well as some of the other songs like "Shattered Glass," which is similar subject-wise. It was just that I knew that my relationship was coming to the end, but the other person didn't necessarily know, and it was all just building up with a lot of internal pressure, and I ended up being in a real emotionally rough place for a couple weeks, especially towards the end of everything. How I dealt with it was writing songs and just letting it all out through music.


Did you write all the lyrics on SEPARATE?


J: Yeah, so on our last LP, I probably wrote about a third. It was probably an even split, more or less, between myself and Harrison, our other guitarist, and our bassist Boz. But on this record, I ended up writing everything. I think, if I recall correctly, there were a couple minor lyrical contributions that I put in rewrites from Harry and Boz on two songs on the record. But yeah, eight of the songs, I wrote all the lyrics. This album was also just… I got on a roll, like I was saying, I was super depressed, and all I did every day was sit in my room and write music. So this whole album is a big release for me, personally.


That seems like a very personal thing to put out into the world. Because you weren't the sole songwriter on previous releases, how did you feel about being more exposed? Was there any fear or vulnerability you had because, "Oh, these are my deep thoughts made public" or were you just happy to have it out there? J: There is a little bit, or I suppose I should say was because now I'm just happy that it's coming out, but before I was writing the songs, and I wasn't, I mean, personally in my life, I've always had a hard time communicating and expressing how I feel about things. So I was writing the songs and bringing all these lyrics to the guys, and I wasn't disclosing to any of my personal best friends or my significant other about how I was actually feeling. I was just writing about it. So it all felt sort of weird almost until everything happened. I split up with my ex and confided in my bandmates about the emotional rough patch I'd been in and my battle with depression, and they were all like, "Wow, that makes so much sense now," because I'd been sitting there writing songs about it. But I hadn't necessarily been forthcoming about how I felt. Even my ex, I had shown her some song lyrics, and she was like, "Is this about us?" and I was in denial about it at the time. But yeah, it was definitely all a little nerve-wracking until I came clean about how I felt.


Is there a song off the album in particular that you're stoked to play live or to have people finally hear?


J: As far as playing live, the second single we released, "take my breath away," that song is just really fun to play and also "blurred around the edges," I'd like to play live because that song is the one where we anticipate a lot of heavy crowd participation and singing back to us, which always feels really good. And the only other one that isn't a single that I'm really stoked for people to hear, I guess two actually, are the last two tracks, "sway" and "decline." They're some of my favourite moments on the record. One is super heavy, the other is introspective. They're on opposite sides completely.


How would you say SEPARATE is an evolution for Capstan?


J: Well, I've mentioned that I took over the writing for this one. In the past, I had already been writing the music and riffs and stuff, but for this one, we knew we were gonna have more time, because of quarantine, to finish the record. Normally we're touring a lot, and we do bits and pieces in between. For this one, we sat down and evaluated what we wanted to do, what we wanted to go for this time, and we agreed that focusing on how to write a chorus was the most important thing in our evolution. And just the whole method of how we wrote the album itself; on our previous releases, we always kept songs around and never heavily cut songs. That's something we did differently on this one. I wrote probably 18 or 19 songs and ended up cutting almost as many as we kept. We cut whole songs that had finished vocals, and we'd never done that before. We wanted every track to be able to stand alone as a solid track. The way I focused on a new technique for writing was to write choruses first, melodically and placing lyrics afterwards, which was a game-changer for being able to make a really strong chorus. So there's a lot we did differently on this one, and that shows on the tracks. Speaking for every member of this band, with confidence, we all think this is the best thing we've ever released. We're very happy with it.


I know it's still early days, but those extra songs, is there a plan to release them at some point, perhaps in a deluxe edition or an EP?


J: We've talked about it because we do have a couple complete b-side tracks. So we may drop some of those later down the line. I'm not sure I'd be really interested in doing it. Why not? I feel like b-sides are becoming more popular, and fans love them. Maybe it doesn't fit the album, but you can always release them separately or independently. It would be cool to do in the future.


You guys worked with Shane from Silverstein for this album and that must have been an incredible experience to work with someone of his calibre. What was that experience like?


J: Yeah, it was awesome. 15 year old me would be freaking out. When we got to tour with Silverstein, which is actually how it started. We met Shane and Silverstein when we did Warped Tour in 2018, and they were super cool and welcoming to us. And we ended up touring with them later that year, and that was really sick. Shane and all the guys are super awesome and really took us under their wing. We've developed a connection over the years. Anthony was on Shane's podcast, Lead Singer Syndrome. So we've known Shane for a while, and we were talking about wanting some cool features, and we've got a few on the record that makes me really excited. So Anthony just hit Shane up, and he was stoked on it, and I couldn't be more happy with it. He really fits the song. He sounds great on it. I couldn't think of a better guest vocalist for a song like that.


Yeah, he sounds really great on that song. And even Saxl Rose, a bit of a left-field collaboration that totally compliments the song on "blurred around the edges."


J: Yeah, we've had a little bit of saxophone stuff on our last record, but with this, I've followed Saxl Rose for a while, and he's worked with some really big artists like Wiz Khalifa and a lot of cool stuff like Silverstein too. We knew that when we were gonna have that little saxophone interlude, which I guess as a little easter egg, is actually a melodic tie-in with another song on the album, but we wanted that in there and we wanted someone cool who was kinda well known in the scene. So we hit him up, and he said he was really into the track and down to do it, so he threw a little of his own spice on there, and I'm really happy with how it turned out.


What's the best piece of advice you've gotten from a band that you've toured with?


J: That's a good question. Really it was. It was quite a while ago, we had just started touring, and it wasn't a band we were on tour with but was touring that we kinda knew, and that was to always focus as much money and effort as you can into making the best possible product. It's really common these days for people to do new recordings and release that music in the world to try to grow their band, and typically, it's just not worth it. Every band should focus a lot more on their time and energy -maybe you have to wait longer, maybe you have to save up- but go to a high-quality recording engineer or producer, someone who can make your music better too, because it's quite common due to art being so personal, that someone will have an idea they love, and they won't want to change it, but listening to a well-established producer that knows what they're doing is only going to make your band better. Being open to the critiques and input of others is only going to help. I think a lot more people who want to be in a professional band should take more time to properly invest in their product.


When looking back at your career so far, what really stands out to you? What makes you happy that you're doing this?


J: Definitely playing the last Warped Tour in 2018. That was huge and amazing, one of the best experiences. And being able to go to Europe for the first time and going to Germany and seeing people sing your words back is a really humbling, surreal experience. Just seeing how far your music can travel. So those two things are the first to jump out at me. But also, just getting to tour with a band that I've idolized since I was a kid, like Silverstein. Doing that club tour with them, both legs, ended up being like 50-some shows across North America. That was a crazy experience as well.


What inspires you to keep going? What motivates you to continue getting out of bed and working towards your dream?


J: It sounds cheesy or cliché, but just the creative process. Being able to make music, I'll tell ya, if we were about to release this album but didn't have any of the tracks we've released so far, I'd still be equally stoked because I'm very proud of it personally, and I put a ton of work into it. It's just the idea of constantly creating new, better things and just growing into the musician that I want to be. Just to keep creating music that means something personal to me. I just wanna make songs.

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Album artwork for SEPARATE, the second full-length album from Florida progressive post-hardcore act, Capstan.