Cult Of Youth Interview
From a studio in the back room of hisNew Yorkrecord store, Sean Ragon is on a mission to shake the very foundations of contemporary indie rock with his chaotic, post-industrial acoustica. A dissonant neo-folk masterpiece, his latest album under the Cult Of Youth moniker, ‘Love Will Prevail’, is resolutely anti-mainstream; not surprising for a man with roots in the Boston post-hardcore scene.
As eclectic as you’d expect from the owner of one of the East Coast’s finest underground record stores, Love Will Prevail embraces Ragon’s wildly diverse tastes, from metronomic post-goth (“Man and Man’s Ruin”) to brooding horror-psych (“GardenofDelights”), all underpinned with beautifully lo-fi acoustic guitars. Released earlier this year viaBrooklyn’s impressive Sacred Bones imprint, it’s Ragon’s second long player for the label that recently unleashed Moon Duo’s sublime sophomore effort, Circles.
Louder Than War caught up with Ragon to discuss the album and the philosophy that underpins Cult Of Youth.
Louder Than War: Firstly, how are things going?
Going great! I’m back from two months of touring on the new album. Happy to be back home, happy to get back into the flow of things, and excited as ever to begin working on some new projects!
Louder Than War: Tell me about your new album, ‘Love Will Prevail’
This is the first record that I have ever been 100% happy with. I feel as though it strikes a really good balance between the first two albums. It manages to capture the spontaneity of the first record while maintaining the recording quality of the second album. The first record was entirely recorded at home. The second album was written ahead of time and then recorded in a proper studio. Both of those methods have their merits. However, for the new record I built myself a proper studio, and recorded the album there with the same creative process that I used on the first album. This is how I am going to work from now on. Also, both emotionally and spiritually it caught me at a major crossroads in my life. It is the culmination of everything that I have worked for up until now.
Louder Than War: How did your approach for writing and recording it differ from your previous albums?
This record was actually recorded in a way that was closer to how I recorded the earliest material by the band. I ditched the group mentality, and just made the record that I needed to make. I’m not sure what the future holds, but this time around I needed to make something that was personal.
Louder Than War: Less than half the tracks you wrote ended up on the album. How did you decide what did and didn’t make the cut?
You always know! In fact, some of them never even made it past the basic tracking phase. It’s weird, you have to fight the urge to keep working on things when they’re not going well. Everyone wants to fix everything, but some things are not worth salvaging. This album is short (35 minutes) and to the point. If it were to be cluttered by some of the songs that I didn’t really care for, it would have seemed like a long slow drag at 45 mins.
Louder Than War: You locked yourself in the studio to finish the mix. What was that like?
Absolutely terrifying! I had the flu as well, so needless to say it was a tough time. I literally didn’t leave the studio for anything (maybe once or twice to stock up on food) until the record was done. I would mix until the sun would come up, and then drink Ny-quill and pass out on the floor when it was time for sleep. In the morning (since the studio is in the back of the store) I would get woken up by whoever was working that day, and get back to work. It took 9 days of working like this to get the whole thing mixed.
I would have liked to take my time a little bit more, but I actually built the whole studio from the ground up (including all the carpentry) before beginning to record the album, and that took so long that I was behind schedule from the start (and it also took like 2 months to do all the tracking and basic edits).
Louder Than War: It’s your second album for Sacred Bones. What’s your relationship like with the label?
They are good people, they get what we’re doing, and they support us 100%! I have nothing but incredible things to say about them. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of their family.
Louder Than War: Tell me about the origins of Cult Of Youth.
This project is the culmination of many years of home recordings finally being made public in 2007 (I’d been home recording since around 1995). Making it public seemed to be the natural progression of things after a certain point. Doing so was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, and it has changed my life for the better.
Louder Than War: You’re very much from a punk and industrial background. How do these roots inform your approach to making music?
It keeps me honest, and it keeps me grounded. You are never on a higher level than your fans, and every single person in the room is participating on an equal level.
Louder Than War: You’ve said that the indie-rock world is pure consumerism. How does your outlook on the music industry differ?
The music industry is characterized by all the mundane sycophants that we have to put up with in order to maintain the ability to do the things that we need to do.
My outlook on music does not contain the word “industry”. It also does not contain the word “business” or “marketing”. Music is a vehicle through which like-minded peers can communicate with one another and it is often the catalyst for social gatherings in general. It possesses the ability to engage social change, and it can be the purest representation of the core values of a group of people.
Indie rock is rock star posturing for rich kids. It is ego driven, and it’s goals are selfish and essentially meaningless. It does not service any community, and it shares the same ideals as the straight world. It’s purpose is to create a lifeless facsimile of something that is real, and sell it to others as a form of entertainment.
Louder Than War: What’s the philosophy behind Cult Of Youth?
The purpose is to inspire people to question their conditioning and break free from the chains of oppression (even just a little bit). The way in which American society functions right now is dangerously unstable, and I fear it is taking a turn for the worse. I need to fight against it in one way or another, and I believe that every action in the name of justice brings us one step closer to a better future.
Louder Than War: How does running a record store influence you as a musician?
Doing the store allows me to meet and interact with many different artists from many different backgrounds – many of whom I would have never met otherwise. It keeps me engaged with my peers on a daily basis and provides a constant source of inspiration!
Louder Than War: What are your plans for the future?
Keep doing what I’m doing, but do it better!