Ten years ago, Maryland straight edge hardcore band xLooking Forwardx totally killed it with their Facedown debut album “The Path We Tread.” The angry old-school hardcore anthems are still some of our favorite songs, and as vocalist Justin Chaillou finds out sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.
I’ve heard people describe an album as a sort of time capsule of the lives of the people who wrote it; or at least I think I’ve heard someone say that because I couldn’t possibly have thought of that on my own. So I’m going to approach this look back at “The Path We Tread” from that perspective and examine how things may or my not have not changed for me in the ten years since its release. As for how things have changed, I am currently writing this from a home that my wife and I own, with my two-year-old son sleeping upstairs
while my seven-and-eight-year-old daughters are at school. That’s right, three kids. Today is my day off from one of the two barber shops that I own with Kevin [O’Brien, drums] and Kevin [Doherty, bass] of XLFX. (The fourth member of the band is my brother Josh, so needless to say we are all still very much in each others lives.) So I have kids and a career now which has created stability in my life which was not there ten years ago. My wife, Liz and I were married less than one year when XLFX recorded “Path” in 2005. We’ve now been married 11 years and the circumstances of my life have changed dramatically, but what I’m wondering is how much I have changed?
Lyrically, this is still an album that I am proud— there isn’t anything on it that I am embarrassed about having said. However, I believe that if I were to sit down and write a record now, I would have a few more songs like “You’re Worth It” and “Each Step,” and a few less like “Waste of Time” and “Not For Sale.” Don’t read too deeply into that. I don’t disagree with the sentiment of those songs at all, it’s just that at 35 years old I don’t think I’m angry enough to write them anymore. A quick note about “Not For Sale:” for anyone keeping score we are all still straight edge (still standing here…whatever that means…give me a break, I was 19 when I wrote THAT song!); so it’s not that I wouldn’t still write a straight edge song, but boy is that song mean! “Not For Sale” was originally my idea for the title of the record. I was picturing the album cover being the Daniel Gadsden flag (yellow background with the green snake and the words “Don’t tread on me”) but instead it would just say “Not For Sale.” Simple. Thinking back on it I still like it. Jason Dunn wasn’t feeling it. So “Not For Sale” became “The Path We Tread.” Also, I seem to remember at that time being really into Matthew 10:16 where Jesus sends his disciples out into the world and he tells them to be “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.” That must have gotten the snake thing rolling around in my head which lead to the album cover art. When we received the first proofs for the art there were no X’s around the band name so I had to call Mr. Dunn and explain that there had been another band called ‘Looking Forward’ so we needed the X’s to differentiate us from them. He didn’t seem impressed. Maybe that was because we were already like two times over our budget.
**Side note: I am now typing this on my smart phone at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore waiting for Disney on Ice to start. None of that would have made any sense to me 10 years ago. Also, just to be clear, I am at Disney on Ice?! The last show I saw at this place was Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer. But I digress.
Let’s discuss the writing and recording process. XLFX had a run from about 1999 til about 2007 where the four of us practiced on Sundays and Tuesdays without fail. I believe that my brother is one of the most prolific songwriters in hardcore history and over that period of time we never stopped writing and refining material. So by the time Jason came to us with an offer from Facedown we already had enough songs to record a full length album (and then some). So we narrowed down the stuff we had written since releasing “What This Means To Me” and settled on what we believed to be our best 24 minutes of material…which was 19 tracks. But we were surprised to find out after we finished recording that the running time was actually 29 minutes. To me this is a little long for a hardcore record. I think we had a discussion about cutting a handful of songs to get the running time down a bit, but at that point it was already paid for so there was no reason not to just release everything, plus the long track list on the back of the disc looks cool.
Tracking the songs was quite a different process than we were used to with our previous recordings. Making an album at Trax East was kind of a dream of ours since that studio has put out some of our favorite records, but it was clear from day one that we had entered a different caliber of studio. The producers pushed us hard and required a level of perfection that we had never experienced before and it just about broke us and bankrupted the label. At heart, we were a punk rock band and we were used to playing fast and raw. That being the case we never felt like every note had to be perfect. We were tight and we felt like we were well rehearsed, but we had stepped up to another level and we weren’t ready for it. The end result is a record that is technically perfect. It’s heavy, fast, on-tempo, in tune and everything else that would define a record from a performance perspective. My personal opinion is that maybe it’s too clean, and that the flawlessness of it robs it of some feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of it and I’m proud of the way the guys performed, but I would have loved to hear those songs just a little bit more raw.
So let’s sum this whole thing up. “The Path We Tread” is still a record that I am proud of and I am so grateful for all of the opportunities that it opened up for us. I was able to see America with my best friends, meet new people and hopefully do some good. To answer my own question from the beginning of this whole thing, I guess I’m essentially the same guy that I was 10 years ago, just living a totally different life. I think I’m more mature, I know I’m more into Jesus, more into my wife and a lot less angry. The overall message that I wanted to express on “Path” was that if we do right by the people God puts in our lives, then our own lives can have real, lasting meaning. I hope this is true and I hope that I’ve done my part.