Interview: TreadWater on Innovating Hardcore and Fostering the Underground Music Community

Photos by Corinne Cummings

TreadWater is an integral part of Rochester’s thriving underground music scene. As well as their own musical contribution, a member of the band is actively involved in fostering the growth of the DIY community by arranging shows for local and traveling up-and-coming indie artists.

NYS Music met up with TreadWater members Steve Haramis, Caleb Barefoot, and Adam Kramer at Vineyard Community Space. This foursquare house owned by Monroe Park Vineyard Church sits beside a former church converted into an arcade. Like the place where they practice and perform, TreadWater is a study in contrast – their music is hardcore at heart, but full of surprising elements such as classic rock beats, crisp guitar riffs, tempo changes, and melodic segments.

Caleb Barefoot, Adam Kramer, and Steve Haramis

Paula Cummings: Tell me about the formation of the band. You guys got together last year, right?

Steve Haramas: We were all in bands previously together. Adam and Caleb were in Rhema most recently, and before that Adam and I were in a band called Endangered Youth. I said “We should be in a hardcore band.” So that was it. It was that easy. I think when you’ve been friends for years, you don’t have to talk about it, you just do it. We practiced for a couple months, tried to find what kind of sound we wanted.

Adam Kramer: I feel like things came together pretty quickly because we have a chemistry because we’ve all played together.

Caleb Barefoot: My band before played with Endangered Youth quite a few times, so we knew each other from playing shows together since 2013.

PC: How did you decide on a band name?

AK: It was a long process.

SH: It’s never been that hard to name a band. Every other band I’ve been in was it was like “That’s the band name, there it is.” (snaps fingers)

CB: You usually have an idea of what the band’s going to sound like and you pick a name to fit the style. That’s easy. But with this, we talk about influences and what we’re good at playing. We went into it not knowing what to expect or what would come of it. We had been writing a lot. We had the EP written before we came up with a name. Once you have so much written it’s hard to come up with what the band means. It’s like working backwards, I guess. Trying to get the name to fit the band rather than the band fitting into the name.

SH: I think that’s good because when you try to follow the footsteps of the name or a certain sound you’re restricted to that thing. We just let it go where it went and named it based on that.

CB: We had a couple stand-in names, but then one practice Steve said, “I have a name, how about Treading Water.” And I said, “What about TreadWater, because Zao, a band we like, has an album called Treadwater. It fits our style.

PC: You guys have a really interesting sound. Who are some of the bands who have influenced you?

CB: Other than Rhianna?

SH: Some are unconscious. You start playing, then you go back and you hear things. But nothing is consciously in my head like, “I want this to sound like that.” The influence is unconscious.

CB: We listen to a lot of the same bands: Solid State, Tooth and Nail Records, mid-2000’s.

AK: Early metalcore.

CB: Early hardcore crossover into metalcore.

SH: Zao, obviously.

CB: Norma Jean, Chariot.

AK: Early Underoath.

SH: I listen to a lot of 90’s screamo, too.

PC: So how do you get your sound? What gear are you using?

CB: You push it as loud as it can go.

SH: You can make something sound clean and distort it at the same time. I want something that still has some character to it. It’s dirty and has some grunge to it, but it’s not indiscernible. You can still pick apart the different tones in there. It’s the reason why I use a Stratacaster to play is because I feel it’s a guitar not used for metal, so it’s interesting to try to use it to make that sound. It still has a lot of character to it.

CB: I guess Nirvana and The Melvins are a couple more influences, my big influences as far as drums. My mindset in recording was more classic rock. I use a vintage 1970’s drum set.

AK: I’ve been playing though a Thunderbird bass. I’m not much of a gear-head, but the Thunderbird sounds great.

CB: Just loud and open is what our band tries to achieve.

SH: It’s loud and you can feel it when you listen to it. You let it break apart and lose it’s intricacy when you play live, but it’s more about the feel of the set. You push the volume and feeling.

PC: You recently put out your first release, Arrows In The Sun. Tell me about the songs on it.

AK: As far as the lyrics for the songs, the lyrics were put together at the last minute. We didn’t intend on Steve and I being the main vocalists. We had other people who had come to practice, but it didn’t work out.

SH: A few weeks before our first show, we still didn’t have anyone, so we sat here in this room and wrote the lyrics and rehearsed it quick.

AK: That’s why this first stuff is minimalist as far as lyrics. It’s more about the music. We were going for catchiness.

SH: It’s not about how much you say. You can say a couple lines and you can make it punchy and have an impact.

CB: I think the band in general is continuing that with the new songs to be more minimalist with vocals and lyrics, and focusing more on making decent songs musically.

SH: I wrote three songs and Caleb wrote two. “Burning Bark” is about family, distance from family, and the process of going through that. “Backwards” is about frustrations with your own limitations and behavior. Hence, “Backwards,” not wanting to regress and wanting to move forward. “Speak” is about life and death and what’s important, which is love.

CB: I wrote “Shattered” and “Pretender.” Well, “Pretender” Steve and I co-wrote the lyrics. They’re more about frustration with hypocrisy and the judgmental.

SH: It’s funny because when we were in Endangered Youth, generally we were angsty about something all the time. And now it was like, “I don’t know what to write about.” I had to actually think about what I wanted to write about that means something. We’re not as angsty as we used to be.

CB: I think that’s a good thing. It’s about love and death.

SH: And “Signals” is just a transition track. It was one of the original names of the band that we threw out. So we threw it on there as a recognition of that name.

PC: We’re here at Vineyard Community Space, where you rehearse and play sometimes. Who are some of the bands you’ve met through being here?

AK: Mostly it’s people we’ve known since before being in this band. This next weekend we’re going to do two shows with this band called Condition Oakland from Pennsylvania. And Tyler, the main songwriter in that band, he and I have been friends since we were 17. And we’ve always played different music genre-wise. When he plays solo it’s folk punk, and sometimes he plays with a full band and it’s hot water music, that style of punk rock. And we are what we are. But they’re some of our best friends.

SH: And California Cousins.

AK: We play with them at The Bug Jar. I appreciate those guys so much. They are the backbone of the DIY scene in Rochester. Almost every show that happens in this space, there’s a member of California Cousins here. So it’s been cool to get to know those guys and work together with them. And the guys from Druse, they’ve been really cool as well.

SH: Tim Avery is always part of the shows, too.

CB: We played with a band called Mother Moon from Baltimore. It was one of the only bands we’ve played with so far that we’ve sounded similar to. We didn’t feel like the odd band out on the show.

PC: Does having such an eclectic sound make you more versatile and able to jump onto shows with different sounds?

SH: The bands we’re playing with tonight, I imagine it would be hard for them to jump on certain shows because it’s straight death metal. It wouldn’t work. But if you’re more punk rock you can slip onto other shows. Our set has a lot of diversity, too. We have different songs – new and the EP. Tonight, we’ll play more of the heavy stuff but next week, we’ll play more of the melodic stuff. We tailor to the show we’re playing and morph a bit.

AK: Steve and I come from a scene that’s really small in central Pennsylvania. The first shows I played, I was in this really crappy emo band. We were playing shows with death metal bands. That’s what I grew up around, this diverse scene, because there’s not enough people in each individual subgenre. It’s part of where I come from, so I like to continue that in the booking and the shows we play.

SH: And those people who come will stay throughout the shows from across genres. They don’t just see one thing and leave. They participate in anything.

CB: We haven’t played with any hip hop bands yet. I wish we would. That would be awesome.

PC: So Adam, you book some of the shows here.

AK: Myself and Tim Avery book the shows here.

PC: Do you have a philosophy behind who you look for?

AK: If a band asks me for help – I get a lot of messages just because of the network of DIY booking and touring – I try to help them out. If it’s a young band, even if I don’t think they’re that good, but they’re touring and putting themselves out there, I want this to be a place where we’re supportive of young artists.

SH: It’s not about the musicality, it’s about the attitude. You have to be supportive, open-minded and laid back.

AK: Generally, good attitudes. Most people play in bad bands before they play in bands that are less bad. So hopefully this can be that for locals and for bands coming through on their first tours. That’s it – just foster a community, more than just a spot to put on shows.

TreadWater has a weekend show swap with Condition Oakland coming up. They’re both part of a show on July 7 at The Drunken Monkey in Ashland, PA and July 8 at Vineyard Community Space in RochesterVineyard Community Space is an all-ages alcohol/drug-free environment committed to being a safe space to foster the arts and music. 

Arrows In The Sun was recorded at 1809 studios in Macedon, NY with the help of Dave Drago. It is available to stream or purchase on Bandcamp.

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