“The world is an ugly place sometimes,” says Jeremy Ray Talley, “and it just comes out when you’re writing music.” As founder, guitarist, and lyricist in The Bled, Talley knows all about getting the ugliness of the world across in his music. The Arizona metalcore/post-hardcore act has a knack for producing weighty, abrasive riffs and verses that are equally dramatic and grotesque. Talley’s played a vital role in shaping the group’s lyrical imagery since its inception, having penned all of Pass The Flask, the band’s debut LP. (Since vocalist James Muñoz joined the band early in its career, Talley and Muñoz have divvied up writing duties—the two make such a good team that it’s nearly impossible to discern who wrote each song.) In advance of The Bled’s date this Wednesday Nov. 9 at the Barbary, The A.V. Club spoke to Talley about some of the group’s notable songs and applicable verses for illustration.
“You Know Who’s Seatbelt” from Pass the Flask (2003)
“The signal flares will light the way to the scene of the accident / where we’ll dance like a pile of teeth in a broken mouth. / Such a sick celebration. / Everyone loves a fucking tragedy in epic proportions. / Let’s set our hearts at self-destruct.”
Jeremy Ray Talley: The only thing that has gotten us in trouble was that “You Know Who’s Seatbelt” was originally called “Dale Earnhardt’s Seatbelt.” If I could go back, I would have just called it something completely different. That song title was thought up by our previous singer, Adam Goss, before Pass The Flask was even out. We just took it because it was about fame and how fame can kill someone and people die for it. Now, [Earnhardt is] a corporation posthumously. After his death, he’s still raking in millions of dollars because he’s a product, and that’s fascinating. That’s such a commentary on our society as a whole and how we address fame culturally. The fact is that a family was crushed by a death and it made millions of dollars. It’s a business.
When we first put that song out, people started hearing about the original title, and there were people in Texas who were upset about that. They didn’t want us to call the song that. I understand that now; I was a kid then. I would probably go back and change the song title, just to not have to a change a song title and call it something cheesy like “You Know Who’s Seatbelt.” The message outweighs the title. People forget about the title anyway.
The A.V. Club: You’ve mentioned that bands that came before The Bled heavily influenced Pass The Flask. Do any names come to mind when you think about lyrics?
“I Never Met Another Gemini” from Pass The Flask
“Slowly we peel away the layers / and the light seeps through the cracks. / You whispered softly in my ear, / ‘The birth of morning’s upon us, dear.’ / The bandages fell upon the floor.”
AVC: Where did all the medical imagery come from, what anesthetics and doctors washing their hands?
JRT: I ended up having a crazy dream about James [Muñoz]’s sister, actually, and that’s where that song came from. I wrote it pretty straightforward about exactly what I was seeing in my dream.
AVC: What subjects inspire you nowadays?
JRT: One of the more dominant themes that I tend to write about is my fear of dying. It’s something that comes across in a lot of the songs I write. The best example of that is “Some Just Vanish,” from Silent Treatment , which is all about my fear of dying in a plane crash or laying on a surgical table counting backwards from 10 and going under. It’s about fading out. Both of those things scare me. “Shouting Fire In A Crowded Room” [from 2010’s Heat Fetish] is [about] dying facedown in the street.
“Smoke Breaks” from Heat Fetish (2010)
“Slave away. / For the price of your youth, you can earn yourself a dying wage. / You’re worth your weight in the sweat that you spill / for the good of the company. / At the end of the night, / counting on your smoke breaks, you seem to move a lot of product, / but the product doesn’t move anyone, / and that’s the honest to god damned truth. / Did you answer the call when it came, or did you call it a day? / Like my father, / he buried his passion, / sacrificed the 12-bar blues to take on the real world.”
JRT: That’s a James-written song. He wrote that while he was working at a factory in Chicago, while we were on our hiatus [between 2007 and 2009]. It talks about his father. His father was a musician and ended up trading that life and gave up his dreams of being a musician for being a full-time father, and he kind of lives vicariously through James. That song is really important to James, to get that off his chest a little bit.
“Mouthbreather” from Heat Fetish
“I aim my mouth at the sky, / only to find my lungs have filled with sand. / I let the sun burn me down. / Before I let you inside, / I clear my throat. / It’s just a matter of time before you set something innocent on fire / just to watch it run.”
JRT: “Mouthbreather” was most important to us because we wrote that song about being written out of a genre we helped build. That was the one first songs we wrote when we were coming back and just started writing Heat Fetish. We can’t just be pushed out and overlooked. We’re going to get back on the road and get back in full swing and try to put our music out there. We took a year and a half off, and we had gotten kinda forgotten about and were watching a lot of bands that grew up listening to us surpass us, in a way. It wasn’t coming from a dark place or a place where we were pissed off, as much as it is [that] no one wants to be forgotten. We’ve been doing this for 10 years and realized that it’s not permanent. We want to leave our mark while we can.
AVC: Have you ever shelved any lyrics you’ve written because they were too dramatic, dark, violent, or morbid?
JRT: Not really. None of our lyrics are too violent in the sense that someone’s going to listen to them and hurt themselves or go hurt someone else. At the end of the day, we’re trying to create a mood. A lot of our music is dark, and a lot of our lyrics are dark. There’s nothing that I would apologize for or want to redo or want James to change.
AVC: In another interview, you mentioned hoping to write a song for your mother at some point, but it was difficult to do because of how grim The Bled’s other material is. Are you still planning on doing that at some point?
JRT: Yeah, it’s still a goal of mine to find a good way to write about it. I guess the only real way to do it to be as honest as possible and just throw a positive or lighthearted song on there. Not all of our songs are dark and scary. We have songs about love and triumph. There’s a way it could be done, it’s just that I haven’t found the right way to do it.