Last week in Santa Barbara, The Interrupters kicked off a lengthy US headlining tour — their first — that’ll keep them on the road for a total of seven-and-a-half weeks. This comes on the heels of the California-based four piece releasing their sophomore album, Say It Out Loud, earlier this summer; an album that, if you haven’t heard it, you should make sure you check out before you finish that “Best of 2016” list. The band have breathed new life — infectiously fun life — into a scene that had become a bit stale by injecting a lock-tight brand of ska-punk that hasn’t been played this well in a decade-and-a-half.
Dying Scene caught up with Aimee “Interrupter” Allen and Kevin Bivona, the frontwoman and guitar player respectively, for an engaging conversation a couple days prior to leaving for tour. If you’re even peripherally familiar with The Interrupters body of work, you’re no doubt familiar with how prevalent the themes of family and unity are in their work. Look no further than tracks like “Family” and “A Friend Like Me” from their self-titled debut album or “By My Side,” the lead single from Say It Out Loud, for first-hand proof of that.
It doesn’t take much in the way of conversation with any of the band members to realize just how genuine those themes are. When Aimee joined up with the three Bivona brothers (twins Justin and Jesse man the bass and drums, respectively), to form the band, what could have been a tricky-to-navigate situation felt, in fact, pretty natural. “Kevin and I had already been writing music together for a year when the twins came in,” says Aimee, before confirming that the twins do, in fact, seem to have their own language (which is fairly apparent if you’ve had conversations with the two): “the twins definitely have their own communication and chemistry far beyond anything you can imagine and are pretty much a single unit when it comes to the drums and bass.”
The hard work that the band spent on the road, particularly over the last year, paid off when it came time to record the follow-up to the self-titled debut. Say It Out Loud is more cohesive, more energetic and more instantly enjoyable than even their first album was. “I think that just playing together live, going out there and playing songs and just being together and figuring out who we are as a band really helped us have a really strong foundation of what we were about,” says Allen. The infectious, high-energy feel is by design, continues Bivona, as the band used the input gained from crowd reactions at their live performances as a barometer when it came time to fine-tune tracks for Say It Out Loud. “With the second record, we would always be like “let’s try this background vocal” or “it would be great if we could get the crowd to sing this with us.” Just trying to keep it high-energy and fun.”
As you’re no doubt aware, the band holed up in the studio with Tim Armstrong (as Allen calls him the Fifth Interrupter) and made the most of what, in hindsight, seems a very brief amount of time to piece the new album together. “Top to bottom, we only spent like maybe six days (recording the music for Say It Out Loud),” explains Bivona, eventually sounding amazed at his own words. “We did vocals over the course of the next two weeks maybe, including background vocals. And we mixed in a month. When I say it out loud, it seems like a long time, but it wasn’t that long in terms of the actual hours put in!”
Armstrong not only lent his professional expertise to the process, inspiring life and impromtu jam sessions when ideas seemed to have become stagnant, but he was also the consummate professional when it came time to take advice from the band. Armstrong contributes vocals to the Say It Out Loud track “Phantom City,” a bit of a darker, mysteriously gritty sound than has been the band’s proverbial bread-and-butter. “Once it comes down to him singing on an Interrupters song,” says Bivona of the inimitable Armstrong, “he is totally willing to take as much input from us as we’re willing to give. Obviously, when Tim’s going to sing on one of your songs, you’re like “dude, do whatever you want!” But he’ll be like “lyrically, what do you think of how I’m doing it?” He wants it to be good and he wants us to be happy in the end.”
Armstrong’s involvement with the band has not only sparked a slew of “what’s it like to work with Tim” questions from reporters and fans not unlike myself, but has spawned a fairly noticeable number of people who write the band off as a project, or, as a follow up to the similarly composed Distillers of the late 1990s. Whether the band is mindful of that feedback (unfair feedback, in this writer’s opinion) depends on when you asked them about it. “I think that when we started out we paid more attention to it,” starts Bivona, before Allen quickly adds that she is not one to pay attention to the commentary. “I don’t know what the fuck anyone is saying about us, good or bad. I read the articles about us, but I don’t look at comments.” Instead, the band focus their energy on their family, which includes their ever-growing fanbase, seeking to keep the energy and the audience participation at live shows high, creating an immensely enjoyable experience for all parties involved.
As should be fairly apparent, it’s not just four (five??) Interrupters that compose the band’s family. Guest appearances abound in the band’s videos (see above), on its albums and at live shows. Less Than Jake, for example, appear almost in their entirety on a track on the new album, the by-product of a seemingly chance four-hour jam session inspired by last year’s It’s Not Dead Fest. As Bivona tells it, “Less Than Jake was staying at a hotel literally a mile-and-a-half away from our house and we were working on the record. I hung out with a couple of the guys the night before, and I said “hey, do you think we can put something together and maybe have you guys come over and give a listen and see if you like it?” And next thing you know, they’re all at our house, and we worked on “You’re Gonna Find A Way Out” all in a night’s work.”
The band also lent their skills to the upcoming full-length from Washington-based street punk band Noi!se, specifically on “The War Inside,” a heart-breaker of a song that tackles the all-too-real issue of soldiers returning home from foreign battlefields only to be faced with a much scarier and more prolonged war of their own: PTSD. While Allen herself is not a former soldier, the issue of PTSD is still all-too real, and lead to perhaps her most haunting vocal duties to date. “I have PTSD, so I get it,” says Allen rather matter-of-factly. “I have all the love in the world for the United States military. Twenty-two soldiers kill themselves every day, and we’ve got to do something. Anything, really. We’ve got to help stop this shit, and the only tool that we have…or that I have…is music!”
The Interrupters tour kicked off last week in Santa Barbara and runs through November 26th in San Diego. Head here for the full rundown to see where you can catch them! In the meantime, check out our full three-person Q&A session below!