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The Convocation

Karma Ward

By Bret McCabe | Posted 4/13/2005

The Convocation

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Fall 2001 wasnít kind to local trio the Convocation Of . . . , an end when it couldíve been a beginning. The band was touring behind its critically lauded sophomore album, Pyramid Technology (Tiger Style), when that whole Sept. 11 thing put a stop to much East Coast entertainment-going. The trio returned to Baltimore midtour to regroup, but internally it was drifting apart, and by January 2002 the band was on permanent hiatus after the departure of bassist Guy Blakeslee, who later appeared as blues-folk solo artist Entrance. Drummer George France and guitarist/vocalist Tonie Joy vowed to continue, but the momentum was killed. France, co-owner of performance space the Supreme Imperial, started playing in an outfit called the Hush, and Joy, the Moss Icon veteran who remains one of the more forward-thinking post-hardcore guitarists around, worked on various solo projects, but little that went beyond his ears. Last October, France and Joy finally found a bassist in ex-Red Scare drummer/New Brutalism guitarist/vocalist Matthew Hall, who moved to Baltimore last year after completing architecture graduate studies at Harvard University. Now known (maybe) as just the Convocation, the trio makes its debut at the Ottobar April 15, its first public performance since December 2001.


City Paper: So is this a new version of an old band or a completely new band altogether? Why change the name only slightly?

Tonie Joy: Either works for right now, but I guess by the time we have to put a record out weíll figure it out. We have unfinished business, basically. When certain circumstances make it hard to do stuff and be productive, itís disappointing, but it also makes you twice as determined. That was kind of our thing the whole time after Guy quit. And Iíve always kind of liked, not so much what the name means, but what I think of when I think of ďthe Convocation Of. . . .Ē So itís worth carrying on.


CP: Did you feel that you were generating ďcareer momentumĒ right up until the end of 2001? The album was out, and the band was getting around the country. I had seen the band in Denton, Texas, about six months before I moved here.

TJ: I guess when you saw us we were just starting to tour more. But we had actually done so much by that point. And you can do a lot, and it can start to burn you out, and nobody will ever recognize how much youíre working if youíre not out there touring and doing all that. But I donít think any of us want to feel bogged down by the past at all. At the same time, I felt like we put a lot of effort in trying to do the band for about three, four years, up to that point. And it was disappointing to, all of a sudden, be stifled.


CP: How did you come into the picture?

Matthew Hall: My old band the Red Scare toured with the Convocation Of . . . and thatís how I met these guys. And I play in another band called New Brutalism currently, but our drummer lives in Tennessee, and heís married with a kid. So, you can see where thatís going. And I always loved these guys, so I jumped at the opportunity.

I went to see a show that my other band was supposed to play, and thatís the first time Iíd seen [Joy] since the last show they played at the Ottobar. And I was talking to Katrina [Ford, Cam Cameo vocalist] and was asking why you guys werenít playing, and she said you didnít have a bass player. And I was like, ďShit, Iíll play bass for them.Ē So I went up and said, ďGive me a shot.Ē


CP: What took so long to find a third member?

George France: Some people we tried to play with were really awesome musicians, but they may have been flaky or just didnít have the time to do it. And others were really reliable and cool people but couldnít play with us. Matt seems to be both of those things, which is very hard to find.

MH: Yeah, Iím flaky and unreliable.

TJ: I think I was more apatheticónot just about that but about other things. Originally the plan was we were going to take a five-month break. Guy was going to go live in another state, and I was going to go live in another state, and then come back together in May. But after I had been gone three or four weeks, he quit. And, of course, I came right back and said, ďOK, we got to find someone and keep things going.Ē And that became, ďWell, havenít found anyone yet. I guess Iíll just keep going to the bar.Ē


CP: So is the Convocation back into the proverbial swing of things? Are you thinking about recording, touring, trying to get back to where you left off?

TJ: More in terms of general things. For me, now, getting back into it, the most important thing is just the songs. And once we really feel confident that weíve really honed it down to where it should be, then hopefully things will fall into place along with us really making an effort for those things to fall into place. I personally would like to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, within reason.


CP: What is ďas much as possible, as soon as possible, within reasonĒ?

GF: Weíve made a lot of tactical errors in the past that impeded our process. Touring before our record came out just because the opportunity presented itself. Bad timing. We were supposed to tour behind our album, but then we had to come home. But now, we can see things clearer.


CP: How so?

TJ: Some of the things in the past were certainly my fault. Even though I had played music for a long time, this was the first band where I was like, ďWe should try to do things this way and think about this.Ē And I probably made some hasty decisions. And I think George and I thought, for whatever reason, that I knew what I was doing. But really I didnít. I possessed really good intentions, though.


CP: Is keeping a band together harder as you get older? I ask because, on the one hand, you have spent five, 10 years doing this, you know so much more about how things work than when you first started. You know what it means, financially and emotionally, to be on the road for six weeks. But also, thereís probably less youíre willing to put up with when you get older than when youíre 21 and donít know any better.

TJ: In some ways, I kind of dread that aspect. A lot of the shit thatís very nerve-wracking and negative, Iíve had to deal with that for a decade. I donít want to have to deal with that anymore. For a while I felt, I love playing, I just want to play music. I donít want to have to deal with that. Itís not trying to have a total prima donna rock-star mentality where I want somebody to bring me my cocktails. [But] just playing with people I enjoy playing with would be a lot more appealing and satisfying than a lot of the grueling crap you have to deal with on tour. But after a while I started missing some of the crappy aspects of it and am ready to do it again, to a certain extent. Like George said, we can definitely do things better.

MH: It definitely gets harder as you get older. In college and touring over the summer, it wasnít a question of quitting your job. But I think we can be more strategic about it, pick your battles. The difference for me now, as I get older, Iím in a band because I want to be in a band. Iím in a band because three days a week I want to play with these guys. My reason to get back in a band is that it feels good to be back playing. Thatís what makes my days interesting.

TJ: I realized a long time ago that Iím a lifer. Iíve never had anything resembling a real jobóeverything was just stupid little jobs I could do to make music. But in a way itís created this sort of vendetta mentality. You get wiser about it. The good thing about Matt finding George and I is that he wants to be productive and do things. Iím sure there are major, or even minor, things as a musician that he hasnít been able to do yet, and we both feel the same way about that. We havenít done stuff for so long, I feel happy just to be productive again.

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