Thursday, 02 June 2016 11:52

Digging Deep: Coffin Problem release colossal self-titled, debut LP

Written by  Eric Mitts
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Grand Rapids band Coffin Problem Grand Rapids band Coffin Problem Seth Thompson

The members of Grand Rapids’ Coffin Problem have one request for when you listen to their debut LP: Play it loud.

Anyone who’s caught the band’s epic live shows will echo the same. The music is enormous — enveloping every available space surrounding it before encapsulating eardrums in layers of dense distortion.

“It’s mostly slow. It’s big. It’s fuzzy and atmospheric,” vocalist/guitarist Sean Stearns said about the band’s new self-titled album on dizzybird records — the release show is July 23 at The Pyramid Scheme. “It’s wild and mild. I hope it’s an intense listen. I heard someone say that it sounds bigger than Texas.”

Boxing their massive, high-volume music into an easily definable, digestible sound is a real challenge for Coffin Problem, ever since Stearns, 34, started the band as a bedroom project. But as the band has grown, the members have come to describe their music as drone-rock, referencing genres like shoegaze and bummercore as touchstones for their colossal wall of guitars. 

Formerly a member of GR pysch-rockers Haunted Leather, Stearns began writing songs two years ago for what would become Coffin Problem’s debut LP. The band issued a stripped-down release on 1980 Records back in 2014. Afterwards he started assembling the band with some of his longtime friends in the GR music scene. 

“I met Sean while he was playing in Haunted Leather,” said Coffin Problem drummer Ben Weissenborn, 28. “He was the only other person I’d met in person that was a fan of Swans, so that gave us something very small to connect on initially. We kept running into each other out at different bars and eventually struck up a really solid friendship.”

Album release show wsg. Heaven’s Gateway Drugs, Glassfield, Prudence
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce SW, Grand Rapids
July 23, 8 p.m.
$8 advance, $10 day of show
21 and older
(616) 272-3758

Along with guitarist Trevor Goldner, 36, and bassist Billy Bartholomew, 35, the members of Coffin Problem often play double-duty, as they’re all active in other area bands. Stearns plays with Shores and The Howlers, while Bartholomew also plays in shores and the Matt Churchill Band. Goldner moonlights in Heavier Than Air Flying Machines, Expunk and Trophy.  

“Coffin Problem is different for me because it’s the first band I’ve been in where I’m the songwriter-singer,” Stearns said. “Because of that, it’s kind of an amalgamation of the styles of the other bands I’ve been in and the music I’m influenced by.”

“Besides Coffin Problem, I play in Jade TV, Shane Tripp, Stepdad and Mavericks and Monarchs,” Weissenborn added. “Before that, I played in a band called Petals Rang the Bell. Of all the bands I play in, Coffin Problem is the one where I feel like I have the most sonic space to experiment. I find myself focusing more on mood, atmosphere and dynamic, as opposed to trying to play things that are more technical or impressive. Restraint and silence can be more powerful than playing fast and hitting hard.”

After getting together for its first practice last September, Coffin Problem put together a solid set of songs in just a month and a half, and played its first show at Founders last October. 

“No one had any idea what we sounded like, and [local psych-band] Heaters were nice enough to put us on the show,” Stearns said. “It was packed and the response was insane. I can’t even explain how it felt to be received so well.”

Following that first gig alone, local label dizzybird records offered to put out Coffin Problem’s debut vinyl LP — which is now available for pre-order at and comes with an immediate download of the album. 

“That blew our minds,” Stearns said of the swift offer from dizzybird co-owners Brian Hoekstra and Nicole LaRae. “They’re good friends of ours and they’re doing great things. They support their bands 100 percent and that’s so important.”

Coffin Problem then recorded its eight-song debut last November at Cold War Studio with Rick Johnson. The band is currently already working on a follow-up.

“I see it as the end of the first chapter of the band and the beginning of the next,” Weissenborn said. “I feel like we have a strong sense of momentum and I hope that we’re able to harness that and keep it going.”

The band plans to do several weekend tours, including runs out to Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, as well as heading down south and out east.


Check out some sounds from the band below and at



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