Among the scores of bands spreading like wildfire (or is that the plague?) across the post-hardcore landscape, very few can match the honesty and grit of Denver’s Planes Mistaken For Stars. Trashing convention with its relentless passion and energy, the band has gathered a steadfast cult following throughout the years, releasing a handful of EPs and two full-length records while touring incessantly across the globe. The group’s third album, Mercy—marking its move from the boldly independent No Idea Records to the hardcore/metal powerhouse Abacus—dives further into the depths of the band’s notoriously epic chaos and dark, frenzied melodies. Before the group’s stop in Chicago, frontman Gared O’Donnell talked to The A.V. Club about losing members, traveling, and posthumous adulation.
The A.V. Club: How did the Abacus deal come about?
Gared O’Donnell: Right after Up In Them Guts came out, other labels expressed interest. We made the decision to do something different, and No Idea backed us up. They said, “Listen, you’ve hit the ceiling with what we can do for you. If you want to go to another label for the next record, you have our blessing.”
AVC: Was it difficult writing the album with a new member?
GOD: Yeah, we did the same thing with Up In Them Guts. Right before we were going to write that, [founding bassist] Jamie [Drier] left, but Chuck [French] came in and saved the band. In this case, [founding guitarist] Matt [Bellinger] left right before we were going to start seriously writing for Mercy, and it stung and it hurt. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it through the ordeal, but we did, and we’re a stronger band for it. The record we wrote with Neil [Keener] is a very special record that has taken on a life of its own.
AVC: Is it harder to tour as adults with mounting familial and financial responsibilities?
GOD: It’s definitely a lot harder, but the flipside to that is, we’re more passionate. Now we have to pick our battles. We know we have X amount of days to do this, and X amount of a window to do it in, so we fucking go for it. It’s definitely painful to be away from our families, and it’s physically draining. We’re not 21 or 22. It’s harder, but it’s a lot more sincere.
AVC: After spending the last several years traveling the world, how do you view the experience of touring?
GOD: I couldn’t afford traveling if I wasn’t in a band. Most people in our income bracket get to take a vacation maybe once every five years. I’ve met people who haven’t ever left their state. I get to go on vacation three or four times a year, and I get to see people I wouldn’t see otherwise. And at some point this band will end, and I won’t get to see people I love so dearly, and that love me so dearly. With Planes, we’ve made collective friends. In any given city, they’re waiting for us to come stay at their house, or they have food for us, or plans to get us shitfaced. And it’s really nice to see these people. It’s an experience in itself. We’ve been everywhere and people always ask us, “Did you see this landmark,” or “Did you see that?” And I tell them I never go to the tourist places. We see real places and how people really live. It’s priceless.
AVC: When the band comes to an end, will you be content with the foundations you’ve built throughout the years?
GOD: Yeah, that’s what Planes is. It’s history. We’re sharing our history and learning about others. Every record is an honest document of a two- or three-year period in our collective lives. It’s like a time capsule that will outlive all of us. It’ll be around hundreds of years after we’re dead. Maybe 200 years from now, a disenfranchised poor kid will find one of our records in his great-great-great-grandfather’s basement. Maybe he’ll have a connection, and he’ll feel a little less alone or a little enlightened or a little stronger.
AVC: How would you feel about posthumous recognition?
GOD: I’ve thought about breaking up before, just to see what would happen. I have a feeling we’d be a lot better dead than we are alive. Without sounding arrogant, I feel like that’s the boat we’re in. Few people wrap their heads around what we’re doing. Not that we’re virtuosos at all, but we just take such a different approach to things. We’re being aggressive without being steak-headed about it. We’re being technical without being math-rock. We’re being honest and guttural, and, for lack of a better word, emotional without being crybabies. We’re being sexual without having to dress up silly. It’s the wrong climate for that, because most of the music-buying public just wants to get dressed up and look at each other’s shoes.
AVC: Do you think kids find the scene more important than the music itself?
GOD: Yeah, most scenes are such horseshit. Maybe it’s our fault we never got more recognition because we call shit on so many people. We feel like it’s beneath us, which probably makes us look like pricks. But it is what it is.