Photography by Rachael Shorr
Pilgrims of Yearning is one of those bands whose name seems strikingly apt. Comfortably embedded in the post-punk scene, Boston’s Pilgrims of Yearning have still created a sound that speaks to something more expansive than limited genre terms can describe. Atmospheric and brooding, Pilgrims of Yearning’s compositions lean toward the nostalgic – to a time when lyrics were poetry, to a time that people helped one another in simple ways. As comfortable in silence as they are with lush and opulent choruses, singer Juls Garat’s voice soars above tense and exacting guitar melodies and snaking, rounded bass supported by a subtle electronic beat. Their upcoming album, Forsaken Lands, immediately ensares, with mournful echoes of The Cure’s Faith era and the wistful legacy of Latinx folk singers of decades past.
Shaking percussion, decayed snare and robotic claps set the tone of “The Visitor”. After it’s joined by anxious guitar and a stalking bassline, Garat’s trembling voice opens up to tell the classic and epic story of being an outsider set up to battle the cultural fear of the other — but in this version, racism and xenophobia takes the role of the unwelcome visitor to humanity, or what the lyrics describe as “The Greatest Dread”.
Pilgrims of Yearning seem to be exactly that: souls on a pilgrimage in search of searching itself. In their world, when we discover barren, forsaken landscapes, we soon envision new life coming to claim wide open fields. After witnessing our own sorrow, in Pilgrims of Yearning’s music, we allow ourselves the faintest hope.
We spoke with singer Juls Garat, guitarist Claudio Marcio, and bassist Sean Woodbury about Forsaken Lands, which releases June 5.
Stream the new single HERE!
You say that Forsaken Lands was written in solitude, when you first moved to the United States and before you met fellow musicians. What emotions presided over you while you had so much solitary time?
Claudio: Our first couple of years were very hard, so I was swinging between nostalgia and uncertainty for the future. Before moving to the US, I already had some ideas for a music project, but it was in this context of isolation when all these ideas came together and took form, probably as something that was inevitable.
Juls: Music was a savior. It helped us to connect on a deeper level and on something beyond the day-to-day. To me, writing lyrics started as self-exploration of the processes I was going through, but it was also a chance to look around and learn about this country, its culture, its flavors. But also, solitude is not too difficult for me, it is a need that I have. And it came at a moment when we were probably bursting with too much activity. So in that sense, it was also a relief to come together with my own thoughts for a while.
Since everyone has been in isolation due the COVID-19 lockdown, how does the quarantine time feel similar to your initial solitude upon coming to the US, and how does it feel different?
Claudio: I’ve definitely felt the uncertainty for the future again. Of course, that’s the case for everyone with the pandemic but to us, it’s also not knowing what’s gonna happen with our immigration status in the next few months. With Trump in the White House, the process is more difficult and more time-consuming than ever.
Juls: We were already used to being at home a lot. And when people now express how difficult it is for them not being able to see their families or talk to them in person, well, that’s been our last 5 years. I hope people can see the relationship, the sacrifice that all immigrants do to make our lives and this country a better place. I hope that in general, we can be kinder and more understanding of each other’s circumstances.
How much of your music background and scene from Chile continue to influence you?
Claudio: We still feel connected to the scene and music in Chile. People and bands like Carlos Vandal (from our former band Amöniacö, who recently signed with Cleopatra), Binzatina, Silke Furious, and Diavol Strâin are all doing great things in the scene nowadays. Carlos has had a long and interesting career that started in a small remote city, and has pushed his dreams through the years. Going more mainstream, Los Prisioneros and early La Ley are bands that still sound relevant.
Juls: In Chile, we were part of a very dynamic scene full of creative people. Our apartment was a point of encounters and usually full of friends, as we were promoters and encouraged people to meet each other and hopefully work together. I’ve taken that energetic, inventive and collaborative mindset with me and tried to keep the connection by promoting Chilean bands, hosting them (like we did with Diavol Strâin in their Boston show) and by being part of the current channels of communication among bands. Musically, as I said before, I’m very influenced by folk music; I don’t let too many days pass before listening to artists like Victor Jara or Quilapayún.
What were your initial impressions of the post-punk scene in the U.S., and have they changed at all?
Claudio: Before coming to the U.S., we honestly didn’t have much idea of American post-punk bands and looked much more to Europe for music and influences. We were familiar with the Californian deathrock scene, though, and bands like the Vanishing, Pins And Needles and Christ vs. Warhol. In our years here I’ve learned a lot, as the U.S. is a huge and complex country and of course, it has a lot of talented bands – so many that it would take me too long to name them all. But I do wanna mention some of our first friends we made in the U.S., the awesome guys from House Of Harm, who also helped us record our first EP ‘Bestiarum’.
Juls: We arrived in the U.S. in mid-2015. During these years, we’ve seen the post-punk scene grow and thrive into this revival. In Boston where we live, when we started playing not two years ago, there were almost no active bands and we ended up playing with House Of Harm all the time, hahaha. But now the scene is diverse and rich in bands and it is the most humbling feeling when some people have told us that we’ve been an inspiration for them to start or come back to their projects. Being outsiders, becoming part of our community and now feeling that we are a small part of this big U.S. post-punk and goth family gives me a sense of purpose and belonging.
You’ve played with many popular artists in the post-punk genre. How did you introduce yourself from being brand new in the country to being featured on coveted bills?
Claudio: To me it has been a combination of two things: the great job Juls has done in placing ourselves out there, and that luckily, people have liked our music, haha.
Juls: I believe it’s never easy to introduce yourself as a new band and of course, it’s especially hard when you know absolutely nobody in the scene. We were lucky to meet our friends from House Of Harm, they introduced us to the first promoter who payed attention to us after the first usual round of knocking on doors and no answers. It also played a role that in Boston there weren’t many active post-punk bands at the time, and people were somehow hungry for that. So after we played a few shows, Boston promoters had us in mind when touring bands came to town and to be honest, we have been very fortunate in the sense that now we don’t have to actively look for shows in Boston. On a national level, I think social media has been fundamental. But again, I’m not for doing a lot of promo that can feel and be so impersonal. I don’t like using people as instruments – you’ll never get an invite to like my page if we don’t know each other and I’m not 100% sure you’ll be interested! I’m much more interested in connecting with people organically and in establishing meaningful and cooperative relationships as it was back in Chile. And I think people can feel that and respond positively. Sounds basic, but it’s the number #1 rule in life: don’t be a jerk, and treat others how you’d like to be treated!
How does Forsaken Lands compare musically or thematically to your previous work?
Claudio: Forsaken Lands is our debut album, and I feel it as a consolidation and maturation of the ideas that were already part of our EP ‘Bestiarum’. I also feel a personal evolution; I’ve always been self-taught and during the months between the EP and the album I’ve learned a lot of new sounds and layers and ideas and I tried to incorporate those elements in the album
Juls: I’d just add that all that learning led us to explore much more than we did in the EP – which is a continuous process for all artists, I guess. So whereas our EP can be clearly defined as post-punk, in the album, while we keep that vibe, our sound is more eclectic and each song has its own personality.
Politics come up a lot in discussions about the band and your lyrical content. What do you feel, if any, lines should be drawn between politics and art? Do you consider yourself a political band?
Claudio: I think that politics are a primary element in our music. I can’t go as far as to say where the lines between art and politics should be, but to be honest I’d like to see more bands involved in politics, even as part of their music or in their statements. In the current times we live in, I think people in the underground scene shouldn’t remain silent and give cart blanche to those in positions of power. That being said, there is much more to music and arts than just politics.
Juls: Even as a little kid I’ve always found it hard following the status quo and the because-I-said-so’s. And then in my twenties I was much more active than nowadays, in part because as an immigrant you need to be careful of not having any legal issues (even traffic tickets are included here). So I have put those feelings and impressions into my lyrics now. Politics are central in my life, because I can’t stand looking the other way when it comes to abuse, inequality, power and hypocrisy. I think people misunderstand a lot what politics means, as it’s not necessarily about partisanship. Politics are one of the most powerful tools to try to keep some control of our lives and it is a bridge between our souls, our loved ones, our communities and our world.
Sean: Where there are opinions, there are politics. Art will always somehow be associated with the politics and dialogue of the era it came from. I wouldn’t go as far as calling ourselves a political band, but it is reflected in some of our songs such as “In God You Trust”, “The Besieged” and “8.12.27” that we have strong opinions when it comes to the oppression of communities in society.
Do you have any songs that are not political in nature?
Juls: As I said before, my conception of politics is pretty broad, haha. We do have songs that are more philosophical in nature and also songs that are about having fun and enjoy a good moment with friends. But all of our songs involve to a certain extent narratives about connection with others and our place in society and the universe.
Claudio: Probably “Madeline U.” is our only 100% non-political song. It was the first one we finished and I already had in mind this story of Edgar Allan Poe “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”. So Juls followed on that initial idea I had to write the lyrics.
Juls: But I purposely made the song about Madeline, the almost invisible female character of the story, haha.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Claudio: I want to thank all the promoters, DJs, bands and friends that we have met in these years for their company, their talent, their hard work and for giving us a hand from the beginning.
Juls: All that Claudio said, I can’t express with words my appreciation! Also, thank you Sean for being such a support and a delight to work with!
Sean: I’m very proud of this Band and this album. Julia and Claudio have been a joy to work with and be around since the first time I met them. I only hope to continue to contribute to a project I believe in and build upon what we have already created.