The California-based group To Be Gentle perform a subtly soaring, surprisingly beautiful screamo that packs careful guitar melodies right alongside more intense portions. They top their creation off with the deeply emotionally resonant, dynamic vocals of singer Jake Beeker, who gets occasionally startlingly but always refreshingly emotionally direct. Beeker explains that the group crafted their glimmering take on a sort of atmospheric screamo as a vehicle for a kind of personal liberation. And the beauty of it is, on open-ended songs like 2019’s “If You Are Reading This,” those messages of emotional freedom ringing out through the noise can land powerfully no matter where exactly you’re at emotionally.
“I would say my main musical inspiration is using music as a coping mechanism for trauma,” Beeker explains. “Music is definitely the cornerstone of my life, and it’s helped me get through a lot of troubling experiences and growth periods. For me, writing music for To Be Gentle is a way to cope with anxieties and specifically traumatic experiences I have had happen to me. It is most definitely a cathartic experience, especially to perform. It’s kind of like a therapy session for me.”
And that extends to listeners, many of whom have reached out to say how the music reached them right when they could use it. Beeker continues: “Two really important messages that we as a band try to convey in our music are — number one, “I love you,” as we believe that is the most powerful and healing message in the universe, and number two, that it is good to be comfortable with experiencing the uncomfortable. Our latest release is all about accepting and emancipating uncomfortable, traumatic, and painful thoughts and experiences and being okay with them happening to us as a form of growth. Although we are not at fault for our traumas, I think we can learn and grow a lot from reflecting upon those things, which more often than not we try to avoid.”
It’s a fine line to travel, but the experience feels perfectly encapsulated in the band’s music. Beeker thinks that “it’s about being sensitive but also strong in a way that it’s okay to be in touch with emotion, and that it is an act of strength to approach these discomforting topics.”
Finding A Way Forward
The catharsis jumps out when on that track “If You Are Reading This,” Beeker sings that “some of us don’t know it yet,” but “you are deeply loved, pass it on.” Beeker gets even more direct, adding: “I love you just the way you are right now.” That’s a powerful message indeed. There’s something already especially freeing and subtly even exhilarating about marching off into the intense punk cacophony included in To Be Gentle songs — representing, in a sense, that past that we can’t change — and the band dial into that freedom and broadcast it loud.
The song with the above message of love is featured on To Be Gentle’s November 2019 album L’autre Côté de la Peur. That album came only months after the band’s self-titled debut album, which they released in March, and they also have a live session available. The band started in December 2017, around the time that Beeker posted in a local music-oriented Facebook group looking for potential jam partners. The band’s drummer Pat responded, and the rest is history (and an intriguing testament to a positive use of social media). Pat’s art studio has hosted some of the band’s shows and functioned as “a place to make art, collaborate, and certainly practice and record our songs,” Beeker says.
Personally, Beeker explains that they’ve been a fan of The Saddest Landscape for awhile, a group that performs the same kind of subtly but increasingly beautiful melodic hardcore-leaning screamo as To Be Gentle. “The first band that got me into screamo was The Saddest Landscape. They’ve been a favorite of mine for a while now,” Beeker shares. “I owe it to them for inspiring me to start To Be Gentle. In my opinion, they are a band that combines — what we do too — the chaotic and “pretty” sounding aspects of screamo very well.”
Beeker and To Be Gentle’s own songs pack some memorably unique features, like the ten minute long musical journey packed into the song “The Thought Of Losing You Terrifies Me,” which is on the band’s November 2019 album. Just like the emotional themes of the album, Beeker explains that the group have sought to challenge themselves with the nuts and bolts of their music writing. “When writing parts, we try to write stuff we haven’t done before in previous songs. If it doesn’t jump out at us in a “woah that’s really good” kind of way, we scrap it altogether,” Beeker says, explaining: “The last song, “The Thought of Losing You Terrifies Me,” is a song about trauma I have experienced with my twin. We’ve been through a lot together, and I wanted to dedicate that song and the whole album to them. One day during practice, I just started playing the opening part, and I thought it was really good. I thought it would be fitting with some other progressions and parts I had previously written; it was a perfect match for the kind of song I wanted it to be. Other notable parts like the beginning parts of the first song, and the end of “Insurmountable,” are all written with the intent of challenging ourselves to write well-written parts.”
These themes come together powerfully during moments like that song “If You Are Reading This,” which Beeker says is “purposefully direct,” since, they explain: “Pat and I both believe that every human being is connected in some way or another. When I hurt you, it hurts everyone, and sends ripples throughout our world. When I act upon kindness, it does the same.” Overall, the comparatively young band already have a memorable soundscape of songs to explore. Beeker explains: “That is all I could hope to accomplish with our music: to help people and inspire them.”