DS Interview & EP Premiere: Charlie Bender (The Attack) on touring with punk legends, running a full-time business, and singing in five languages

For all but the proverbial 1% of bands, finding a way to carve out a living as a working musician is an undeniable struggle. To most, it means bouncing from menial labor, retail, dishwashing or bartending jobs (or some soul-sucking combination thereof) that’ll allow the time off to hit the road for a few weeks at a time every couple of months. The Attack‘s Brad Palkevich and Charlie Bender might be on to something. The guitarist and frontman, respectively, of the increasingly successful Orlando-based progressive political punk band are also co-owners of the Enemy Ink, a full-service custom screen printing and merch distribution company that is equally successful in its own right.

As the business has grown year-by-year, the band has hit the road for increasingly high profile shows with acts like Flogging Molly and the Misfits. We caught up with Charlie Bender just a few days before he and the rest of the band hit the road to begin a three-week jaunt with English Oi! legends The Business. We talked about balancing responsibilities at the office with the call of the road, what it’s like to tour with some of the more legendary bands of our time, and why on God’s green earth he decided to record vocals to the band’s latest single, “Under The Gun,” in five languages.

“What’s that,” you say? “Five languages?” You got that right. The band’s new single, due out Friday, June 13th, was written and recorded in English before being translated and re-recorded by Bender in Spanish, French, Italian and German. To get you ready for the release, you can stream the whole entire EP below! Check out our interview while you’re at it.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): How does the Enemy Ink business exactly operate when you and Brad are on the road for weeks or a month at a time?

Charlie Bender (The Attack): First and foremost, we’ve got an amazing team here at Enemy. Especially in the past couple of years, they’ve really stepped up to be able to run this company with us being away. Both owners being away, and both owners being in the band. We’ve been in business since 2001 and have always increased our sales every year and grown in every way possible. But it’s been the past couple years where we’ve kinda let go of the reins a little bit to be able to pursue more of the music career that we want to pursue as well. We’ve got a great staff and some amazing managers who are all very much in the know in the industry, not only in touring and the punk rock and DIY ethic, but also the business as a whole and making it profitable and taking care of our customers while we’re gone. Not to say that Brad does not always have his laptop open whenever possible to keep the customer relationships going while we’re on the road.

Is that a nervous thing, letting the reins go a little bit more and more?

It was the first time, but it had to be done. That’s the only way you’re going to grow. And knowing that they’ve totally stepped up and taken care of things just makes you feel that much better while you’re gone. They’re putting out fires when things happen the same way that we would if we were home. Its’ a great feeling.

You guys have done shows with The Business before but not quite to this extent, right?

That is correct. Last fall, we were out with The Misfits pretty much the entire fall. There was a two week break over Thanksgiving. We took a week off, and then did a week with The Business which took us from Savannah (Georgia) back up the East Coast to meet back up with the Misfits and finish off that tour. So the timing of it was perfect. And actually, back in 2001, myself, the drummer of The Attack and the bass player of The Attack (Tito Esquiaqui and Mikey Cortes, respectively) used to have another band, a ska-punk band called Spitvalves, that toured with The Business and Murphy’s Law in Europe. We did like a six week run with them, so we had some relationships going back almost fifteen years. It’s great to keep those relationships alive and to get to play with Mick and the guys.

Between the Spitvalves and The Attack, you’ve been doing this a long time. I wonder, particularly with a band like The Attack, which seems a little bit like it’s a dying breed – the political punk, DIY ethos seems to have all but gone away in a lot of areas.  Is that part of why you seem to align yourselves with bands that have been around for a while? Does there not really seem to be an underbelly of kids trying to do the sort of protest music that there was when you guys started?

There’s definitely not as many bands in the same genre still doing it these days. I think that has to do with music evolving and people growing into different genres that they like. Definitely back in the day there were a whole lot more punk bands…ironically enough, there are quite a few ska bands going around now. I don’t know if that’s come full circle, but when Spitvalves started out there weren’t a whole lot of ska bands. But I think, I guess we combine ourselves with things that we know and things that we like, and we like to play with the bands that we like. And a lot of those bands obviously bring out fans that we would want to become our fans as well. So I think, in a sense, it’s almost happens organically, or at least that’s how we want it to happen. The days of doing your own ‘zine, putting pen to paper, that’s probably all gone. But the music, in a sense, can still live forever. If we do what we like, we can play the sound that we like, and yeah, we’ll always gravitate towards those bigger bands that are in the same genre as us. Or bands that we grew up listening to, people like Bad Religion, people like the Bosstones and Rancid. We’re always going to want to do our best to try to get on shows like that because the people that are still going to see them are people that are hopefully going to give a shit enough about us.

Do you find that there’s a younger crowd that goes to any of those shows, or do crowds tend to trend older? Like, do you have kids coming up to you from the younger street punk crew that look at you guys maybe the way that we looked at bands like Bad Religion or some of those bands that have been around 20-25 years or so at this point?

I will say that some cities have a bit more of that street punk vibe. Maybe not some of the bigger cities, because the bigger cities are kind of spoiled when it comes to things like that, so they’re kind of arms-crossed, “we’ve seen it before, what are you going to do to impress us?” vibe. But you see it when you do get to those markets where the kids are hungry and excited to see something new in real life that they don’t get a whole lot of. That definitely seems to happen. On the other hand, you get a lot of the folks now that are bringing their kids to the shows with them, and their kids are bringing their friends.

So there are a couple different ways that it goes down. But, in a sense…when I was going to see Rancid or see The Bosstones or whoever, there was us younger kids but then there was a generation of people who were maybe the same age as the bands playing, if not a little bit older that had grabbed on to the earlier vibe with The Clash and Sex Pistols and bands like that. So, across the board, I think there are a lot of people that are like you and I coming out to see shows like that now. Though, I don’t know, because I’ll go see Bad Religion and it was packed with 18-19 year old kids when they played with a band like Rise Against. I don’t know what it is about them, they seem to have a bigger, broader appeal. I’d like to know what it is about bands like that and how they’re able to capture those new generations as well. I’d love to learn what they’re doing, other than writing great music.

Yeah, Rise Against is a band that I, for whatever reason, sorta missed at first. I think I had sorta aged out of the local scene at that point. I only caught to them until more recent years, and I didn’t grasp how huge they were until they did a tour a few years ago where Bad Religion opened for them. And I remember thinking “Whoa, wait a minute!” It was sorta mind-blowing. You’re right, they write great music, but I don’t know what it is about Rise Against necessarily that appeals to a younger, broader audience that nine out of ten newer bands can’t seem to hit on.

Sure. It is mind-boggling. Bad Religion did the leg up there, but Rancid did the leg down here, and we were on tour, so I didn’t even get to go to that. Actually, I was out on a different tour, but my wife went, and Brad (Paklevich, guitarist for The Attack) went as well, and was like “man, because we like both bands and a lot of people that we know like both bands, you’ve got both of those bands and those little bit different types of fans in the same crowd…and it was almost like two different shows, which is kinda weird. Which I know was definitely not anyone’s intention, especially Rise Against, they probably wanted to take out bands that they respect, first and foremost. I think it’s crazy how you could be so into one and not into the other, but there’s always going to be a bell curve.

You’re always going to have some people that are all-or-none, and some people that are into a little bit of everything. So I don’t know what it is specifically about them. I mean, the songs are great, the songs are positive, which is few and far between nowadays and is very, very cool. It’s funny that you mention that you didn’t really catch them at first. One of my old bands played with them when they first got up and going, maybe on the Siren Song of the Counter Culture record and I didn’t really know who they were. And years later, I was like, “holy cow, this band is amazing.” Then I get reminded that we opened for them and I’m like “wow…I’m a dumbass.” (*both laugh*) It’s just funny how that stuff works, how you might not be into something and then years later…like, I’m one of the biggest Quicksand fans ever. But I didn’t really know them back when they were playing, so I never got to see them play up until I finally got to see them at Fun Fun Fun Fest. I’m a die-hard fan nowadays. So I try to be better about keeping up with newer bands now so I’m not going through that same thing five years from now or ten years from now.

But that’s almost overwhelming to do at this point. It’s almost mind-numbing the stuff that you have to filter through. Some of it is really, really good and twelve people know about it. And some of it is terrible and has two million Facebook followers or whatever. I’m sure that’s always been the case, but it seems like it’s a little more pronounced nowadays.

Yeah, absolutely.

Well, let’s get to the topic at hand. Tour kicks off with the Business on Sunday and in thinking of it as one of the older guys that goes to punk shows now, I’m curious what’s the cooler, for lack of a better word, to experience now…when a band like The Misfits or The Business calls you up and asks you out on tour the first time, or when they do it the second time, because now they know what you bring to the table?

The first time is always over-the-top flattering and you’re very excited. Then you get out there and you prove yourself as being a professional both on and off stage, building those relationships, being able to not only get up there and perform every night but to be personable with the other bands and looking out for their best interests, helping out with whatever you can with them. So when you get that call the second time, it only means that the way that we play our music, the way that we carry ourselves, the way that we do business is something that they took to heart and would rather call up someone like us again to go out because they know us and we get along and we already have old tour stories to talk about, versus taking a chance on somebody that they don’t really know and that they might not really like.

It’s hard to get into that network, and I feel like once you get into it, then you can kind of build your relationships with all these bands and you can hop around and do your own thing. But it’s really best of both worlds. You did what you needed to do to get their attention, and played music that they liked, and they know what we bring to the table, and the second one reassures it even more that they really do like us and they know what to expect when we get out there.

Now that you’ve been on a bunch of these tours, is there a best market for The Attack outside Florida? Maybe markets where you’d do best if you were doing your own headlining thing?

There are definitely those markets. The first Misfits tour we did, my favorite show of the whole tour was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The second tour we did with them, my favorite show for us was Sacramento, California. We’ve had amazing shows in San Diego, in Denver, which I’m really psyched to get back to. Chicago was great. The West Coast treated us really good. Seattle, Eugene, Oregon. LA was good, but some of those maybe more secondary markets, people seemed to be really into it. And when you get those smaller markets and you’re playing 500-700 capacity places and you’ve got 500 to 700 people in there, you just feel that energy and the show overall is going to be better, versus 500 to 700 people in a 1500 capacity place. You’re not capturing the element of everybody being there together, as tight as you could be. That always plays a little bit of a factor. The show that we bring is definitely high-energy and it always helps when everyone is crammed up to the front of the stage and enjoying themselves, maybe not so much going crazy, but packed in tight and bringing that good energy to the club.

I think that that’s something about The Attack’s sound that probably resonates within the first half a song or so. Like, if people are there for a ‘punk show,’ that’s exactly what they’re going to get with you guys.

Absolutely, that’s what we strive for.

You’ve got the new 7-inch, “Under The Gun,” coming out Friday too. The thing about “Under The Gun,” for those that don’t know, is that you decided to record it in multiple languages. That seems like such a Herculean effort for you…to have to learn all of that stuff and have it come off as authentic. How did that idea even come about?

Brad is one of the big masterminds behind what we do, and he has a lot of great ideas. Last year doing the Record Store Day release and doing six shows in one day throughout Florida was his idea. With this one, we kinda thought about it and he’s like, you know what, if we want to go international and we want people to find us and like us, maybe we need to separate ourselves from the pack a little bit and show them that we care so much about trying to get to their country that we’ll take the time to learn one of our songs in their native tongue and send it to them, almost like a peace offering, or as a gift.

Because, like you said, there’s so much music out there, not just in the States but in the big international picture, it just grows tenfold, or hundredfold. So by trying to do something a little bit different and separate yourself from the pack, that’s our goal. We know we could just hop on a plane and try to book our own DIY tour over there, but we really want to take steps to have the music kinda seep itself into these countries first and help spread the word, so that people know who we are before we come over. Taking the extra effort and the extra step. We do a lot of work over here with the printing company that all of our 7-inches are all screen printed. We really take time to try to create a nice craft, not just with the music but with the way we package things. We’re always going to probably spend a little too much money on making something real nice and making a little bit less in return.

We come from a little bit more of the old school, where concert posters were huge, rock and roll was big, and you had something tangible to listen to and to look at. We know that’s going to come full circle and we just want to keep doing the things that we like to do. That’s the nature of why we do all this. Hopefully the foreign language thing takes off and sticks and people are into it. It was very challenging for me to learn all this stuff, not just to learn it but to sing it in key and to get the annunciation proper so that you’re not putting out a bogus product to someone that speaks fluent Italian. I wanted the content to be 100%, so that they’d take it serious.

Was “Under The Gun” written specifically for the purposes of doing that, or was it the song that you had in the arsenal that you felt maybe translated the best to that, literally and figuratively.

It was, I think, a little bit of both. He had the idea when we were still in the midst of writing some of these newer songs. That’s when I kinda took the reins where this song, where it’s talking about oppression, which is obviously a worldwide topic, and doing my best to keep the song on a bit more of the simplified side of things, to where it will be a little bit easier to understand in every language, not getting too deep into subtleties of lyrics and anything like that. Explaining the situation, explaining the topic, explaining the problem, then taking that and translating it. That’s something that I know every single country that those languages are spoken is relevant.

We get a lot of music from around the world that gets submitted to Dying Scene for review purposes or promotional purposes. I’ve listened to all, I guess, five versions of “Under The Gun” a few times now, and even when I listened to the English version of it first, it sounded to me like you nailed it. It sounds like what’s coming out of some bands in places like Costa Rica or Italy in the sort of political punk world and the protest punk world. I think it’ll do pretty well for you, not to blow smoke up your ass, but it sounds like it’ll resonate in those areas.

That’s very cool, from someone like yourself that gets more music than you probably know what to do with, that means a lot. That means that we’re hopefully doing this right, and hopefully everyone else will think so too.

It’s out Friday the 13th, right?

Yeah, Friday the 13th. We’ll be in LA, the CDs will be available here in town for sure. Not sure how available they’re going to be for hard copies, but I know the digital versions and iTunes versions will be ready to go as well. It’ll be ready in all of the different countries as well. And I think when you get the hard copy, you get the standard four that are on that hard copy digitally, plus you get the other languages that are digital-only that you’ll get from the download code. I think it’s a total of seven or eight songs available through iTunes…all the different languages of “Under The Gun,” plus “Forecast” and “Wake Up World.” We’re excited. It’s something new, it’s not anything that we’ve really heard anybody else doing.

Do you have all of the lyrics in each language ready to go? If you get to a show, say, in LA and you get approached by a group of kids who primarily speak Spanish, or somewhere else in the States where there might be a group of kids who are bilingual, would you have one of those versions ready to go?

I could definitely do the Spanish version, no doubt. The other three, I always carry my notes with me, and if I brushed up on it the day of, I could do it. If I know that I’m going to Germany, I’ll absolutely have it ready. If I’m on stage and someone screams out “sing the French version,” I probably wouldn’t be able to right off the bat. I’m still doing my best to always be able to have all of those ready, and soon enough, that’ll happen where I won’t have to have notes anymore. I’d love to hear kids yelling that stuff out. And I’d do my best, even with only the chorus or something.

Well, that’s when you pull them up and have them sing along, right? (*both laugh*)

There you go, man! That’s for sure!

 

 


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