I first heard Long Island-based  Letter To The Exiles on Myspace, while hunting for bands for one of my shows. They agreed to make the drive down to PA for the show. When LTTE went on they were simply a band nobody really knew. But I noticed that people started really listening to the band, rather than talk through the performance. At the end the audience gave a big round of applause, not because the band was made up of their friends, but because the band stood out with a unique NY style, that made serious hard music people take notice. Today LTTE is with Strike First Records and touingr this summer. I asked bassist James Appleton a series of questions intended to probe deeper into the heart of the band.

Tell me how you guys got involved in music. What led you into hardcore style? Why did you start LTTE?

Each member has been playing music for the majority of their lives, from on their own, to other bands, to church worship teams, etc. Having grown up in the punk/hardcore/metal scenes and having such a passion for this style of music it only made sense to start a heavy band. Hardcore/Metal is all of our style of choice, while we all listen to everything from Jazz to Bruce Springsteen to Norma Jean, we just have a passion for music and everything involved with it. We all know the feeling we got from the bands who influenced us to start playing music, and we hope we may be able to instill that same feeling we had on kids and people today. We started LTTE for that reason along with having a passion for Christ and wanting people to know we are all people, we make mistakes just like anyone else, but we have a relationship with the Savior Jesus Christ who can save us from ourselves. We feel a lot of time in today’s society Christ’s love is often over looked and Christians try portraying themselves as perfect people, when in reality there is one person in history who was perfect, Jesus Christ. We want to make a connection with those searching who feel like they “aren’t good enough” for Church or have been turned off by judgmental Christians. We want to connect with them, love them, and show them the love Jesus has for them.

Were you primarily influenced by the NY hardcore scene?

Growing up in the hardcore scene we experienced something so many people, especially younger kids in today’s scene, haven’t experienced, and that’s being the true passion for the music and the scene. All of us are 23-25 years old so we’re a little older than most in today’s scene, and we have seen such a change in the scene. Years ago the hardcore scene was truly an underground culture, not many people were a part of it or interested in it, but those who were lived and died by it. Instant connections would be formed with people you saw walking down the street who looked like they liked hardcore because there simply was not a big community so it was great to meet people who share the same passion for hardcore. Back in the day, hardcore was about coming together as a community of people with one common goal, to have fun hearing and playing heavy music. People of all backgrounds and beliefs could play the music they loved and be respected by all because that was how the scene was. Today the scene has become much more popular and commercialized and the same passion and respect is not there anymore. Kids only seem to support the giant bands now and have no interest in their own local scene (it didn’t used to be that way, people had pride in their local bands and local scene). Less and less people come to shows unless it’s the biggest band with the most breakdowns, most don’t stay the whole time or watch every band, and for someone, such as us in LTTE who have been around for over 10 years in the hardcore scene, it’s sad to see.
The NY Hardcore scene of old was everything the scene should be, the passion and the love for the bands and for having fun together, the community aspect was awesome. That is what made us love the hardcore scene and want to play this music. While there are so many great bands and styles of music out there, there is just nothing that can compare to the energy and passion that one can find at a hardcore show. For people who don’t listen to the music or haven’t been to any hardcore shows they can’t understand it until they experience it, and that’s why we love hardcore. Hardcore bands almost always represent something and have a message they want to convey and that is something that separates the scene and makes it so great, the passion for the music and what those lyrics are saying.

In 2008 you released A Call To Arms. The songs Raise Your Sword and There Will Be Blood, for example, have a “battle cry” feel. Your latest album, The Shadow Line, seems to be more introspective. The songs tell a story of inner struggle and maybe even  battle weariness. Tell me more about that.

You hit the nail on the head. A Call To Arms definitely was more of a praise album in a way and was certainly a battle cry about picking up your sword and being ready for the battle that we as Christians and we as humans fight every day. Our 2010 release The Shadow Line we went with a somewhat similar, somewhat different lyrical theme, that being exploring how we find and deal with that line between good and evil. As humans and as Christians it is naive to think we don’t struggle, especially since we as humans are naturally evil. The record explores that constant battle with trying to live the way the Lord wants us to live while having to battle our evil human instincts. We wanted people to know even Christians deal with the same moral battles as non Christians and allow us to connect with them on an emotional and intellectual level. We came up with the Shadow Line as the title because if you look at a shadow, it physically shows a line of black and white, light and dark, or as we are saying, good and evil. It truly represented what we explored lyrically on this album.

What about LTTE resonates with your fans? Tell me an interesting story.

We think the constant aspect of LTTE that resonates with our fans is that we are genuine and real. We are often told that people can relate to us and appreciate the fact that we aren’t judgmental preachy Christians. We do not preach much on stage or off but always try to serve and show the love of Christ which we feel is more important than telling a kid he is going to hell or telling someone to change. That is simply not how we operate. People find it easy to talk with us at shows and have conversations about our music, lives, the New York Mets, etc. That is great to hear because when bands don’t have the desire to talk with fans and connect with them outside of being on stage, it doesn’t seem worth it. People need to come first and connecting with them is something we love to do. We have had on multiple occasions people come to shows to see us, come up to our merch table and say “You guys are a Christian band? I appreciate that you don’t force what you believe down our throats.” They see our example as people who are not perfect but have the love of Christ in our hearts. We will be honest about our faults, accept those who don’t believe we believe, but we will never compromise our beliefs or be ashamed of our faith.

There are so many interesting stories, but one that pops in my head goes like this. We were on tour in Portland, OR and our now buddy Chris, who didn’t know about us was at work one day. He was listening to Alove For Enemies and remembered hearing that some of them had a new band, so he went on Facedown’s website and found LTTE. He then bought both of our Cd’s, went on our Myspace, saw that we were from New York and playing 10 minutes away from him that very night. He then left work early, drove to the show, danced his heart out for us, then we stayed at his house that night and went to church with him the next day. So in a span of a couple of hours, Chris first heard of our band, bought all of our music, came to our show, let us stay at his house, and went to church with him. It was an awesome time hanging out and to me is a fun story.

Every band should strive to create and maintain their own musical style in order to stand out. I see a lot of younger bands working hard to sound like an established group like ABR. What are your plans for establishing your trademark style? You have had a couple of member changes. How has that affected the creativity process?
Letter To The Exiles has always had a specific sound in mind and that like every band comes from our influences. We like bands like Misery Signals and Unearth in particular, different aspects of the bands that we like help us form our own sound. At the end of the day however, we write what we want to write. It is certainly difficult in today’s scene to be considered “unique” but all we can do is write the music we like and want to write and hope it translates with our fans or kids at shows. The member changes have not held us back very much at all, especially in the creativity process. We have been writing our new record and are extremely happy and excited about what we have been writing. It is different than typical LTTE, but not a different band. We get bored of bands quickly when they put out the same record time after time or they change their sound dramatically. But when a band demonstrates a natural progression record after record we feel it makes them more memorable in the long run.

Touring, especially today, is expensive and hard work. What drives you to pack up the gear and hit the road?

Touring truly is expensive and difficult to do today. Many times people think it’s the greatest life ever but don’t really understand all that is involved, especially for a smaller band. Touring is not for everyone, but for the people it is for, it is the only life for them. That is how we feel. Playing shows with small turnouts are never as good as playing big shows but if you find playing those small shows is still fun and you put on the same show regardless with a smile, then the passion is there. Our passion is for the music and the kids we meet because we genuinely love playing music night after night, meeting new people, seeing people we wouldn’t see if we weren’t touring, and making music we love to make, it is just great.

What did I miss?

One last thing we would want to say is to support your local scene and local bands, along with the touring bands in your area. I want so badly for the hardcore scene of old to come back again where people came together as a community with a common goal of having fun together in the name of heavy music. No one judging other people, getting into fights, not staying the whole show, just having fun and having pride in their local music and music in general. God bless.


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