Happiness, Positivity & Vulnerability: The Blossoming of Ceres
On the band's third album We Are a Team, out now, Ceres turn to "melancholic positivity" –– and it works.
Header image by Michael Thomas.
If you were to ask Tom Lanyon, the vocals and heart behind Melbourne’s once-premier emo band Ceres, if he would’ve ever expected writing an album that completely shatters everything the band has become synonymous with, the answer would probably be something along the lines of absolutely fucking not.
We Are A Team - Ceres’ third and undeniably warmest album - opens with a breath. This unsuspecting breath, fuelled by both immediacy and intimacy, pushes aside years of sadness, hopelessness and deeply-entrenched disdain for the world in one foul swoop. It ditches the darkness of Drag It Down On You and the selfishness of I Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere But Here and fills that unfamiliar void with affection. Pure, unashamed affection. The kind of breathy, show-stopping moment that mimics what comes before the start of a big speech, a plunge into icy water or, in this case, a confession of love. Such a simple moment was probably never intended to be a catalyst for intimacy, but when coupled with the words that follow, it’s clear Ceres are travelling a different path now.
“I’m gonna get happy, I’m gonna tell ‘em it was all for you.”
Early last year Lanyon found himself at rock bottom, scraping the bottom of the barrel for creative inspiration that wouldn’t result in spiralling feelings of self-doubt and guilt, much like their standalone single did. Stretch Ur Skin – the band’s only 2017 release, and ironically one of their most acclaimed singles – was a self-proclaimed “turning point” for the songwriter, as he was slapped in the face with the consequences of unleashing a passionate break-up anthem, one that was unintentionally construed as a “fuck you song” towards his ex-partner. The single, released a few months after the relationship ended, spat venom like “if you love something then let it leave, it’s not really what you want” and “if nothing changes then I promise nothing will actually change,” into an endless cycle of songs powered by angst at the expense of another person. But, for Lanyon at least, it was never meant to be like that. “I hurt my ex-partner… and I just thought this is not right, I don’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t write anything for a whole year, I thought the band was done.”
Despite not featuring on Ceres’ 2016 LP, Stretch Ur Skin feels like an extension of Drag It Down On You, an unofficial climax of the simmering discontent that lies beneath tracks like Roll Ur Eyes and Baby’s Breath. Even interviews around the time of the album’s release saw Lanyon admitting he was still figuring out his “shitty head and heart,” despite fans finding cathartic solace in the record. “I remember in those interviews going ‘I don’t reckon I’ve scratched the surface; I reckon I could still get to the bottom of stuff and could make a darker album.’ That was my mindset and I thought that’s what I wanted.”
Never one to shy away from introspective reflection and self-growth, Lanyon spent the following year or so in song-writing purgatory, thinking about the impact of his music and nearly admitting defeat in the face of negativity, until Viv came along. The lyrics to Ceres’ primary single Viv In The Front Seat arrived unexpectedly one day whilst driving a car, with illustrations from Lanyon’s current partner’s late father taking prime position in the passenger seat. “The callous of that was so strange,” he admitted. “The lyrics ‘I’ve got Viv in the front seat’ just popped up and I had to go home and write a song, then six months later we’re in the studio recording a whole album.” Like most ventures associated with love, the process of getting back into creating music – now with the added inspiration of a new flame – was completely and utterly organic. “I don’t know if the year off writing songs built up stuff in me and I could get it all out again, but also finding a partner that you love and falling in love and all those other euphoric feelings around that, was just time for me to be like ‘oh I’m so lucky.’” And just like that, a simple song about rebuilding a life after loss, along with a yearning to not only do better but be better, began Ceres’ journey to positivity.
Love is an inextricable feeling. One that can’t ever really be captured in words, or songs, or really any method aside from purely feeling it. So, when I ask Tom Lanyon how he thinks he went capturing his blossoming relationship, I’m not surprised that the answer is “poorly.” Ceres has always resided in a world of pain, telling stories of childhood homes and relationship breakdowns, in songs littered with mentions of illness, heartache and suicide. It makes sense that after years of providing a place of solace for the damned in their albums, to write about something as heavenly as love seems difficult. That’s probably why, buried in the silken melodies and soft lyricism, slithers of shadows lie. “[We Are A Team] still has weird, shitty, self-doubting, melancholy parts and still talks about death but we’re ironing out the creases with it all; I think that’s the beauty of it,” Lanyon explains. “I don’t think anyone knows what they’re doing when they fall in love, so it’s like a nice snapshot of where I was at the start of last year, just finding my way through it and feeling amazing, trying to make good.”
We Are A Team is anchored in this self-coined “melancholic positivity,” which combines the same lingering insecurities Ceres regularly deals with, just framed in a slightly less end-of-the-world way. One night, whilst out with Jack Parsons (who fronts Melbourne band The Pretty Littles), Lanyon found himself in a discussion about musicians and their responsibility to recognise how big their platforms are. “I know Drag It Down On You helped a lot of people, but I know it can also negatively affect people, just in the way I was thinking and my mindset. When Jack asked me ‘do you want to effect positive change? Do you think you have a responsibility to even do that?’ I thought you’re totally right… how many more bummer records can Ceres put out?”
“I think it wouldn’t hurt if there’s a little more positivity out there,” he continued. “This male ‘woe is me; this girl doesn’t love me’ has been done to death. Like far out how many fucking records are there about [that]. I didn’t want to put that out there, and I don’t want to be part of it anymore. It really rocked me; I thought man, I can actually do something different here and not add to the noise of this bullshit.”
From that moment, everything that poured into We Are A Team came from a place of hope. From the super endearing styling of Dumb Smile (“yeah I’m gonna change, I’m gonna be something you believe in”), to the direct, follow up single to Viv, Kiss Me Crying (“if I’m ever looking up, I hope it’s at you”), the LP collates a handful of romantic sentiments, dripping with optimism. The final song on the album, Something Good (“I think something good’s gonna happen, we are a team”), sums up the entire ethos of We Are A Team, acting as an extension from the last album. “Us was the last song written for Drag It Down On You, which is kind of cool because that ‘we are a team’ lyric was in the back of my head when we wrote it. It’s a nice encompassing inclusive title, whereas… the first album was I Don’t Want To Be Anywhere But Here, and that was I, the second was Drag It Down On You, which is you, and then the third one is We Are A Team – so it's I, you and now we. The first album was selfish; the second one is just really dark and about bad things and the third is this light, inclusive We Are A Team.” One of the biggest things Lanyon has been working on is finding that balance in relationships and navigating the ups and downs of not really knowing what you’re doing but making it work the best you can, regardless. To him, We Are A Team is evidence of how he was and is feeling about his current relationship and where he’s at in life. “It’s kind of cool that the record is a snapshot of that time, still being a little unsure and not having the answers.”
“I had to go to my mum’s house when she was away and water her garden over summer. I remember hanging out with my now partner - about to fall in love - and I was like ‘oh I’ve gotta go, I’ve got to water the garden.’ It felt so euphoric to go skip to mum’s house, get the hose out and sit watering the garden. I couldn’t wait for her to be part of the family. It was something about my mum’s house, [having] just left her, watering the garden, and thinking maybe this is something we could do in the future.”
Lanyon adores the imagery of watering gardens and making things bloom, so much so that Water The Garden was written in honour of this “wholesome” notion. The subtle track, which sits roughly half-way through the album, is a mid-tempo slice of mediocracy – churned out in the most poetic and completely Ceres way. Here, Lanyon is soft and vulnerable, almost muttering lines like “but I am gonna walk home with the biggest smile on my face” under his breath, as the swelling melody twinkles behind him. It’s one of many moments on the album where Lanyon emphasises the “little niceties” and moments in relationships that often get forgotten about or taken for granted after a while. “It’s kind of nice to capture those [little moments] when you’re feeling like that as well. I mean we’ve all been in relationships, long relationships, where you’re made and then things fade and turn, and the tunnel can be a bit darker by the end of it. [I wanted] to write a whole album about that [and] honour those little moments. I’m surprised it’s not cheesier!”
“I do love that feeling where you start to fall in love or you’re speaking to your crush, something like that, and it kind of colours those songs in that way. I remember a Dashboard Confessional song Where There’s Gold; I was falling in love with an old, old girlfriend fifteen years ago and I remember that song and being like ‘oh man this feels amazing.’ If someone could do that for our record and have a track like that, that would be so cool.”
Everything about We Are A Team screams revival. Much like the first breath, which gripped onto those untainted opening moments of an album looking to make a fresh start, the closing moments are soaked in a combination of tenderness and self-assurance. It takes guts to stand up and defy everything you’ve created over the past few years but for Ceres, it’s not defeat, and it’s certainly not looking to erase the past, instead, it’s a signal of growth. For Lanyon, if the band had churned out another Drag It Down On You, it would’ve felt “a little contrived” and wouldn’t have “added anything to the zeitgeist.” Instead, he took a risk on love and snowballed into happiness, positivity and vulnerability.
“I don’t really feel much pressure from people thinking ‘oh man, where are the mopey dudes?’ I hope people can appreciate that I’m in a better spot than I was when I wrote Drag It Down On You.”
Ceres' new album, We Are A Team, is out now. They'll be touring the country next month, accompanied by Ro and Eaglemont - tickets HERE.
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