Sadville: ‘Make Ready the Cross’ (2008)

In Music Stories, Program Notes, Retro Grade by Nick Huinkerleave a COMMENT

sadvilleWhat stood out about Cookeville transplants Sadville was the ease and fury with which they stabbed away at every worthwhile sound on the hardcore and underground-metal spectrum. The band’s live presence was intense, from vocalist Travis Flatt’s theatrics to the disarming emotional crescendo of signature set closer “The Forbidden Dance of Decay,” during which drummer Andy Kohler, often wearing a mask, would pose atop his drum stool and entice the crowd into bellowing the final verse along with the band. The group disbanded in 2008, but their sole album, 2006’s Make Ready the Cross, remains a textbook of chaos and riff-worship.



DRUMMER ANDY KOHLER: Sadville came together in late 2000 when Travis, Lucas, and I were in high school. We had a pop-punk band called Clark Kent that broke up, so we decided to start a hardcore band that we ended up calling Sadville.

GUITARIST LUCAS FLATT: With the pop-punk band, my dad had to drive us to out-of-town shows and sit there in bars while we played. Sadville was us out on our own, so pretty immediately the live shows became spectacles.

KOHLER:  We got kicked out of a lot of places and got into a lot of fights. A lot of those early shows ended with trips to the emergency room. Or Dr. Flatt would stitch us up at his vet clinic, whichever was more convenient.

LUCAS FLATT: When we started to play in Knoxville the shows were mayhem­—brawls all the time. Andy got his face crushed by a Fender P-Bass. I’m pretty sure it killed him and he’s a zombie.

GUITARIST BLAN WILLIAMS: I remember the early shows I witnessed as an audience member, and they were without exception loud, head-banging, substance-fueled, epic, and usually sweatier than would be expected. I was a starstruck honors-floor student in Morrill Hall, where they were, and they were a pair of twins flanking a big muscular guy with a mohawk and vestigial baby teeth. Immediately smitten.

LUCAS FLATT: Somehow we graduated from that to playing normal shows around town. The wild punk days had their charm, certainly broke us in, but we had space to get a little more serious about our music, since we weren’t playing with an eye on the exit.

WILLIAMS: I was living with Andy. I guess Andy heard me practicing and thought that it would be a pretty natural and efficient transition to bring in guitarist-roommate-who-knows-the-songs-already-and-would-love-to-finally-be-in-a-band-much-more-his-favorite-band. Plus I had a car and could transport his drum kit to practices in Cookeville.

VOCALIST TRAVIS FLATT: The sound started becoming more indulgent—not in a bad way, I guess—but we started writing all over the place. “The Forbidden Dance of Decay” is the best example of this, because at that point we mostly had hardcore punk and hardcore songs, fast and relatively simple. Live, I wanted to come across as a guy channeling something, so I would lose control of my voice more and kind of experiment.

WILLIAMS: We recorded with sound engineer Jay Matheson at the Jam Room in Columbia, S.C. I think it was like $600-$800 for what ended up being maybe 10 total hours of actual studio time. It both does and does not sound like it was recorded under those conditions.

KOHLER: Jay was incredible to work with. The whole thing went really smoothly. “Forbidden Dance of Decay” and “All Hands Away” were both recorded in one take. There were even pieces that we came up with on the spot. The ending of “All Hands Away” was performed for the very first time on that take.

TRAVIS FLATT: I usually could get the vocals in a few takes, but mainly due to the fact that I had to, because my voice would only hold out so long doing that, and my low register would go first, then everything.

LUCAS FLATT: I’m not an expert, but the gear in there was impressive. Lots of old analog stuff and tubes. The booth looked, to me, like the inside of a submarine. After the first night, we had enough to listen to. We played it in the hotel room while we watched an elephant documentary on mute. The elephants were battling, which seems questionable now, but it synced up with the record.

WILLIAMS: After it was all done, we got some surprisingly good pizza, packed into my car, and drove all the way back to Knoxville with the unmastered CD on loop in my player.

KOHLER: Make Ready the Cross was released by Brooklyn-based Inkblot Records, who had approached us based solely on Internet hype. In 2005, we had toured with Welcome the Plague Year, which was a pretty big deal for us and got us a lot of exposure. Inkblot had a good distribution deal so our record ended up on shelves in places I’d never imagined it would, like Tel Aviv and Tokyo.

LUCAS FLATT: The album really plays in reverse, in terms of developing a sound. We started with the newest stuff, side A, and finished with mostly older stuff on B. Our label came through with a nicely designed and mastered album. Cool guys. I think the copies sold well, but we didn’t do much bookkeeping.

WILLIAMS: I think we got a lot of flak for having the name Sadville. Several reviewers said that was an initial turnoff, thinking we might be an emo band. Maximumrocknroll gave a pretty decent review, noting especially, of course, “George Walker Bush, Texas Ranger” as an example of solid left-wing hardcore music.

TRAVIS FLATT: One friend told me I’d sold out because you could understand what I was saying, but from my experience, the reception was positive. I was happy with it, anyway.

KOHLER: I’d say my favorite track is “George Walker Bush, Texas Ranger.” I’ve recorded a lot of really pissed-off music since then, but that remains one of the angriest pieces I’ve ever played on.

LUCAS FLATT: It’s bittersweet to look back now. Those were simpler times. I think it has our best songs. … It stays interesting, and Travis’ lyrics are great.

WILLIAMS: I’ll say that I play it loud in my car and am not afraid to push it onto even the least-willing listeners whenever possible.

KOHLER: Our final recording was a split 7-inch with Oakland-based Acts of Sedition, which was also recorded with Jay at the Jam Room. Personally, I think that was our best recording. By that point we had really found our sound and struck a balance between hardcore and doom.

LUCAS FLATT: It turned out well. It’s harsher. I think our eyes were more on the elusive mega-riff in that recording. An EP can’t quite compare to a whole album, but altogether I’m proud of our recordings.

KOHLER: My favorite memory of playing with Sadville is the first time we played in Milwaukee. Everyone there ended up naked. But we also really pissed a lot of people off and had to get ourselves out of a lot of hairy situations. In one instance, Travis took a steel folding chair to the face from an angry yokel in Jamestown and things happened during our set at the Barclay House in Baltimore that were, frankly, unprintable.

TRAVIS FLATT: We trashed a club outside of Knoxville with glitter. That pissed a lot of people off. And we half competed in/crashed a battle of the bands on UT campus. On one tour, we repeatedly got to new cities, got wasted in the early afternoon, all split up and wandered around these places with strangers. At times there was absolutely no guarantee we’d ever find each other again.

KOHLER: Sadville disbanded in the spring of 2008 when Travis developed adult-onset epilepsy.

TRAVIS FLATT: I got sick. I started having seizures. I’m doing pretty well now, but at the point of my early seizures and diagnosis it was up to the rest of the guys whether to keep on, and they opted to go separate ways. I think the biggest reason for that was my brother, Andy, and myself were the original members and losing any of us would have majorly jeopardized the dynamic of the band.

LUCAS FLATT: We finished a show or two we had booked with a different lineup, but our live shows weren’t worth doing without Travis’ showmanship. Them’s the breaks. υ

Lucas and Travis Flatt live in Middle Tennessee, where Travis is pursuing a teaching license and Lucas is a writer and composition instructor. Blan Williams is a yoga instructor in Chattanooga. Andy Kohler lives in Knoxville, where he books rock shows and plays in a number of bands, including Argentinum Astrum and In La’Kesh.

Nick Huinker is fortunate to have spent the past 15 years living and covering Knoxville’s near-constant DIY music renaissance. Once a year he does his best to return the cultural favor as producer of the Knoxville Horror Film Fest; most of the rest of the time he’s of limited use.

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