The newest album from Florida hardcore band Gouge Away will knock you on your feet from the very first song and keep you sitting there, shocked, until the closing number. To be fair, you shouldn’t have expected anything less from the band.
On this year’s standout Burnt Sugar, Gouge Away hurl themselves hard into all things intense. That doesn’t mean the album is a front to back hardcore record—in various songs, the band turns towards alt-rock riffs or softer production for a less traditional take—as much as it means the band isn’t wasting time. Bandleader Christina Michelle tackles tough topics in her words that leave her lips like tiny threats, each line stacking on top of the one before it to create a menacing sound. It’s angry and uncompromising, the type of record that you want to hear at a time when every news headline makes you want to scream. That’s egged on by the album’s co-producers, Deafheaven collaborator Jack Shirley and Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré, who give Gouge Away the glean they’ve earned over the last few years giving it their all at shows. Combined, those elements make the songs feel blisteringly personal and incredibly powerful — which makes sense given the act of songwriting was a type of unintentional therapy.
“‘Fed Up’ was mostly written outside of my mom’s place when she was in the hospital,” says Michelle. “She kept getting misdiagnosed and sent home with basically a Band-Aid, which caused her to keep returning to the ER. It was extremely heartbreaking to see my own mom, who took care of me my whole life, be the one in so much pain. My sister and I having to step in and take care of her was something that was a no-brainer, but was also very hard to do, especially when going to the ER is what you’re supposed to do and the doctors kept messing up. The verses were all just kind of word vomit, and it honestly wasn’t until I heard the song back recorded that it hit me what I was talking about.”
To get to know the friendly personalities behind the tough exterior that is Gouge Away, we interviewed Christina Michelle for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask musicians questions inspired by their song titles. With Burnt Sugar as the prompt, her answers are vivid and honest—qualities that will make themselves known in her lyrics when the band headlines Hardcore Stadium, AKA the Cambridge Elks Lodge, this Wednesday.
1) “Only Friend”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the one friend you could share a room with and never get annoyed at them? Whose room would you be sharing: yours or theirs?
MICHELLE: That’s so hard. I have a few people I wouldn’t mind living with in a roommate situation, but sharing a room makes it so much harder! I think probably my friend, Violet. It’s hard to tell because they live in LA while I live in Florida, so maybe they come to mind just because they’re the farthest away out of all my friends haha. Violet has always been someone who’s honest and direct, but in a respectful way, which I love. They are super caring and I don’t think they would ever do anything to bother me or anyone intentionally. I can talk to Violet about anything without judgement, and I don’t think we’d ever want to kill each other.
2) “Fed Up”
DIGBOSTON: What’s something in music or the music industry that you’re currently fed up with?
MICHELLE: Being compared to other bands just because they have female vocalists is the absolute worst. We get compared to stuff that we would never be compared to if the vocalists were all men. Walls of Jericho? For real? People assume I’m the frontwoman for so many bands and I’m just like, you realize that we’re not even from the same state, right? There was this huge thing once where even people who liked us thought we were this band No Right from San Francisco. Even worse, is when people try to pit us against each other by having to compare us and decide which band is better. Not only are we compared just for being women, but apparently people need there to be only one female-fronted band instead of us all existing together.
3) “Slow Down”
DIGBOSTON: When you’re in public and are feeling incredibly overwhelmed, what do you do to help yourself calm down?
MICHELLE: I’ll hide out in a bathroom. That’s usually my go-to on tour. We’re always having to share small spaces and sometimes we all just need a personal break. When I’m able to, I’ll take my time in the bathroom to get some much-needed quiet time.
4) “Hey Mercy”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the last person you chose to forgive?
MICHELLE: My best friend and I had a falling out a year ago. It wasn’t that either of us did anything intentional or terrible, it was just really tiny things that started to add up and weren’t helping the situation. We kept trying to text about it but were both busy. It sucked a lot. But then at some point we decided to make having a phone call a priority and talked it out while hearing each other’s voice. It was apparent that we were both trying to show the other that we cared but it was going unnoticed both ways so we both felt hurt. I learned a big lesson in that. We both apologized for not doing a better job and for allowing small misunderstandings get in the way for too long. Definitely prioritize your relationships with people who are important in your life!
5) “Subtle Thrill”
DIGBOSTON: Which mundane, everyday thing gets you excited?
MICHELLE: I think getting ready for bed is a really nice routine. I could spend forever doing it if I didn’t have to actually go to sleep. I spend so much of every day worrying about getting stuff done and making everyone happy that taking time at the end of the day to unwind and take care of myself feels like such a reward. It probably sounds weird but I like to take everything that I need and put it on the counter, and then put each thing away as I use it. It’s so satisfying!
DIGBOSTON: What is the spookiest moment you’ve ever experienced?
MICHELLE: When I was a lot younger, I had to watch my younger sister while my parents were out. I don’t remember what we were doing, but at some point we heard someone rustling around in the house. We kept trying to find where the noise was coming from, but couldn’t. We convinced ourselves that someone broke into our house and was sneaking around. We grabbed a miniature hockey stick, trophy, and a small pumpkin as protection, for some reason, and hid in the pantry. The pantry door opened suddenly, and we braced ourselves ready to attack, just to find out it was our dad. We just never heard him come home.
7) “Dis s o c i a t i o n”
DIGBOSTON: Are there any events in the past year that have forced you to disconnect yourself from something?
MICHELLE: I find myself disconnecting more and more from social media. People expect me to get involved in a lot of stuff and it’s simply too much to expect from one person, especially when I’m going through my own things and trying to be there for the people closest to me. It’s my own fault, too. I want to protect and save everyone but I’m starting to realize that’s simply unrealistic. I had to step away because I felt like I was failing, and now with the distance I can see that by getting too invested, it’s a perpetual thing that never has an ending. And while I support people overcoming whatever they’re going through, I can’t play a big role in that all the time.
8) “Can’t Relate”
DIGBOSTON: Which current teen trend do you feel the farthest removed from?
MICHELLE: Probably this current moth meme trend. I have no idea how or why it started. It has definitely been taken to a pretty creative extent so I’m not hating on it. But I just flat out do not get it.
9) “Stray/Burnt Sugar”
DIGBOSTON: Which dessert do you love but you have yet to master making/baking yourself?
MICHELLE: Chocolate covered cherries. I’ve loved them since I was a kid! I’ve tried the whole melting-chocolate thing before and it’s hard, right? I can’t do it because I either burn everything or it hardens before anything’s covered. I’m pretty okay at baking cakes though.
10) “Wilt (I Won’t)”
DIGBOSTON: Which moment from your past originally felt like a moment of failure but, in hindsight, you realize was a big moment of growth?
MICHELLE: Pretty much as soon as I heard , Dies back recorded, I thought I could’ve done a better job. I think my writing and delivery could have both been so much better. I was pretty embarrassed of it and couldn’t understand why anyone liked it. I recognize it now as a necessary step, though. I think most people are hard on themselves when they put music out into the world and it made me want to get better in the end. If it never happened, I would’ve never had a starting point.
11) “Raw Blood”
DIGBOSTON: When was the last time you got into a physical fight with someone?
MICHELLE: I was at a show, running off by myself to get a snack before the band started, and when I went down this narrow hallway, a guy decided to grope me to impress his friends. It didn’t hit me at first, until I turned a corner and heard them all laughing and cheering. I went back down the hallway and punched him in the face. He tried to yell at me but it was obvious he was about to cry. Luckily I haven’t gotten into any real physical fights, although I’m always ready to defend myself. I’m pretty much always on edge now.
CULTURE ABUSE, GOUGE AWAY, BITTERMELON. WED 10.10. HARDCORE STADIUM, 55 BISHOP ALLEN DR., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$15. TRIPLEBRECORDS.LIMITEDRUN.COM