2 Tone Records was an English independent record label that mostly released ska and reggae-influenced music with a punk rock and pop music overtone. It was founded by Jerry Dammers of the Specials and backed by Chrysalis Records.
CATBITE IS A NEO-TWO TONE SKA BAND FROM PHILADELPHIA FORMED IN MAY OF 2018. INFLUENCED BY THE JOLTING ENERGY OF THE SPECIALS, THE SELECTOR’S EDGED LYRICS, AND ELVIS COSTELLO‘S LOVE OF MELODY, THE GROUP CRANKS OUT SHORT, CATCHY TUNES THAT USUALLY HAVE A DEEPER MEANING… AND SOMETIMES DON’T. THE BAND’S DEBUT SELF-TITLED LP WAS RELEASED IN 2019 ON BAD TIME RECORDS AND HAS SOLD OUT OF THE FIRST 2 PRESSINGS WITH THE 3RD PRESSING AVAILABLE NOW. THE HIGHLY ANTICIPATED SOPHOMORE ALBUM, “NICE ONE” , ALSO RELEASED ON BAD TIME RECORDS, WAS RELEASED ON AUGUST 6, 2022 AND WAS ACCOMPANIED WITH A SOLD OUT HOMETOWN SHOW, AND FOLLOWED BY EXTENSIVE TOURING. NICE ONE INCLUDES HITS LIKE “CALL YOUR BLUFF”, “EXCUSE ME MISS”, AND THE SOULFUL ROCKSTEADY TUNE, “BAD INFLUENCE”.
Screeching Weasel‘s Anthem For A New Tomorrow turns 30 this year, so naturally a reissue was in order. The album has been remixed by Mike Kennerty who, in addition playing guitar for the All American Rejects, has produced the last few Weasel LPs. I’ve seen plenty of people online taking exception to this record being […]
Screeching Weasel‘s Anthem For A New Tomorrow turns 30 this year, so naturally a reissue was in order. The album has been remixed by Mike Kennerty who, in addition playing guitar for the All American Rejects, has produced the last few Weasel LPs. I’ve seen plenty of people online taking exception to this record being “remixed” (and remastered by Justin Perkins at Mystery Room Mastering), which isn’t surprising. It’s a classic 90’s pop-punk record, one of the untouchables of the era. I understand the skepticism, but sometimes change is a good thing.
The sonic difference from the original release is instantly recognizable within the first few seconds of “I’m Gonna Strangle You”. The guitar tone is much cleaner, both the drums and bass are a lot more punchy and Pro Tools-ish, and Ben’s vocals cut through like never before. It almost sounds like they completely re-recorded the album, especially when you hear the keyboards on songs like “Totally”, “Peter Brady”, and “Every Night”. Purists will likely be turned off by the fact that the record has a much more polished feel; the sound is very similar to the band’s last three studio albums. Whether you like the direction they took on this reissue depends on your opinion of modern Screeching Weasel. If you’ve read my review of their latest LP, you know I’m a big fan of the band’s recent output.
Anthem For A New Tomorrow has always been my favorite Weasel album, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t benefit from this face lift. The crunchy guitars and overall muddy sound never bothered me too much, but this high fidelity reissue has given the record new life 30 years after its initial release on Lookout! Records. If you disagree, that’s cool. I get it. The good thing is the original version of the album still exists, so you can continue to listen to that and pretend this one doesn’t exist.
The 30th Anniversary Edition of Anthem For A New Tomorrow is available now on all major streaming platforms. Striped Music is releasing it on vinyl in Europe (the first pressing sold out but a second pressing is coming soon). Recess Records is handling US distribution, but hasn’t launched pre-orders yet. You can also get it on CD here, thanks to Rum Bar Records.
Reporting by Dying Scene Staff Members, MerGold, Jay Stone, Rae, and Nasty Nate Dying Scene staffers are fans of “The Beautiful Game,” and we are not alone. Some of your favorite punk musicians from all over the United States and internationally discuss the game they love and what they are looking forward to as World […]
Reporting by Dying Scene Staff Members, MerGold, Jay Stone, Rae, and Nasty Nate
Dying Scene staffers are fans of “The Beautiful Game,” and we are not alone. Some of your favorite punk musicians from all over the United States and internationally discuss the game they love and what they are looking forward to as World Cup 2022 kicks in to action in Doha, Qatar. The selection of Qatar as the host nation the subject of FIFA itself, has been rife with controversy from the get-go. Some of the musicians don’t mince words about these issues. Indeed, many of us are also torn over the question of whether to watch the World Cup or not in light of the deserved criticisms. That’s for each of us to decide as individuals. However, in response to our questions about the World Cup and the sport in general, here are the answers from the participating musicians. Also, for newbies to the sport or those needing a refresher course here is a guide from The Athletic for World Cup 2022 viewing.
Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers is a living legend. Burns, now living in Chicago, is unafraid to be blunt when expressing his views, whether in song or any other form. Here, he tackles the elephant in the stadium straight on.
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
JB: “Nothing. Seriously. I cannot ever remember NOT caring about the World Cup since I was transfixed by the great Brazil team of 1970. I was 12 years old and marvelled at the mercurial Jairzinho, the only player to score in every round. The selection of venues for the last two World Cups stinks to high heaven. (See the great Netflix documentary “FIFA Uncovered”.) However, there was some footballing merit on the tournament being awarded to Russia last time around. This time, there is none. To move the tournament from its usual summer schedule to the winter just to facilitate it being played in the desert is only one reason to ignore this travesty, perhaps the least salient reason in fact.”
DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?
JB: “I spent the longest period of my life living in England and, obviously I’m most familiar with those players so, insomuch as I will be rooting for anyone, that’s who I will be pulling for. It’s also great to see Wales there after a huge absence. As a fairly recently minted American citizen, I also hope the U.S. do well. As to who will win it? Brazil. Not a particularly brave call on my part, but I think the temperatures will suit them more than any of the European teams. And, IF they play to their full potential, I honestly think England can make it all the way to the final.”
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?
JB: “Newcastle United. A team that for decades was mired in unfulfilled potential. As a one club city, Newcastle has long been one of the many “sleeping giants” of English football. A recent takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, for which read “Saudi Arabia” (honestly that “PIF” stuff is fooling no-one), has led to renewed investment both in staff and facilities that might, finally, see the Toon realize their vast potential…albeit at the cost of a considerable part of their soul.”
DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area?
JB: “I lived in Newcastle for about sixteen years. As I said, it’s a one club city and if you don’t follow the Toon, then you don’t talk to anyone, at all, about anything!”
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
JB: “Every kid in Britain or Ireland at one point fancied themselves a footballer, but as my eyesight was rubbish from an early age, I always sucked at it. So, no.”
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
MP: “The Qatar thing is sketchy I’m not saying I’m looking forward to drama but there’s gonna be drama. I’m ACTUALLY looking forward to seeing the US back in the mix. The collapse in qualifying last time was brutal.”
DS: Which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?
MP: “I want interesting things to happen, go underdogs! Often the further in your go the more boring and predictable the teams get. An Argentina Spain style final would be lame. Snore…“
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world? How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area?
MP: “I’m a Declan Rice, West Ham guy. I definitely got into West Ham via the punk scene. I got to see them at Upton Park years ago when they were down v Rotherham. I think West Ham’s biggest name that year was Marlon Harewood so I can say “I saw Marlon Harewood live!” Lol
The Chicago Fire once had a THRIVING supporters scene that was heavily influenced by the punk rocks. Years of failure and overt front office hostility eventually chased it away. It still exists but isn’t welcome anymore by the organization.“
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
MP: I grew up in a blue collar suburb of LA in the 70s and soccer wasn’t really available to us, you had to move to a fancier neighborhood for that, it was all baseball and football near me. I did play bar league for the Delilah’s team for a couple years back in the early 2000s. It was hilarious, a bunch of hungover punk rock types up against folks who had played in college, were fit and hydrated. We had the most tattoos of any other team and eventually even won a couple games.“
DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?
MP: “Obviously my favorite punk soccer song is the Chicago Fire goal song Deal’s Gone Bad recorded back in 2002. They used it for like 15 years and it was always a trip to hear myself on ESPN.
In all seriousness I think my fave punk soccer song isn’t really explicitly about soccer but it captures the spirit of the whole scene and the vibe that makes it so exciting – “If the Kids are United” by Sham 69.”
Vee Sonnets presently performs with Park in the Crombies and formerly with him in DGB. He also leads The Sonnets.
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
VS: “All of it.“
DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?
VS: “I’m rooting for my team Ecuador but it’s looking like Qatar is gonna run away with it.” [DS note: Ecuador beat Qatar in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup]
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?
VS: “Tough one but I am rooting for [Lionel Messi. He deserves to win one.
DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area?
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
VS: “Yes. H.S. and pick up games throughout my life.”
DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?
JS: “For Manchester United, it was all Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. He came up in Mexico and played for Chivas, who are from the town my Dad and uncles grew up in. So Chivas and Mexican International Soccer was the first sports teams I was exposed to as a kid and just never stopped following them from then on. Oddly enough, out of all teams mentioned,Manchester United is definitely the team I care and pay attention to (and suffer with) the most.”
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
JS: “I play 1 to 2 times a week with an adult league team or pick-up soccer with friends (our pick-up group has been doing it for 15 years!)”
“I’m part of an adult club team still called Green Valley Football Club.”
Singer-Songwriter Sam Russo is as hardcore soccer supporter so he’ll be keeping his eyes on the matches. Russo will also be on the lookout for commentary by his Red Scare Industries boss Tobias Jeg.
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
SR: “The thing I’m looking forward to most about the World Cup is watching England win the World Cup. Also, Jeg on Twitter defending the refs.”
DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?
SR: “I’m rooting for England, and I’m pretty sure Germany will be hanging in there at the end as usual. I follow all the Italy games because my family is Italian, and I always root for Mexico, too.” [DS note: for the second consecutive time Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup.]
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?
SR: “I support Ipswich Town – the Tractor Boys. My favourite player in the Premier League is a guy called Robin Koch. Great punk name.”
DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?
SR: “I became a Tractor Boy when I was a kid because Ipswich were the only team we could afford to go watch play. Me, my brothers and my Dad used to go to every home game. We had awesome seats because nobody went. It was great!”
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
SR: “I play 5-a-side with a group I’ve been playing with for over ten years! It’s the highlight of my week and I love those bellends.“
Sam Russo says about the photo he included with his answers:
“Yeah! This is me and my team from an 11-a-side match before the pandemic – WE ARE THE SMSC! On yer touch! Shoutout to the excellent humans I play with, they always support my music and we have a bloody good time on a Friday!”
Ryan Packer of Slapshot, is a massive Chelsea F.C. supporter (as are my cousins; I am a long-time supporter of the current EPL-leading Arsenal FC.). So naturally, he, along with Jake Burns, was one of the first people I solicited for this piece. I recalled the photo I shot of him in his Chelsea kit as he worked producing a Boston punk rock weekend several years ago.
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
RP: “I would obviously like to see the US make a round or two. That’s all we can hope for with that squad.”
DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?
RP: “The last two cups I was lucky enough to be in Europe. I have some great memories of Belgium advancing. Maybe they can put a couple of wins together.”
[on what is one of the best aspects of the World Cup] “That’s what’s great about the tournament it can go a million different ways.”
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?
Pedro Aida, of Fire Sale, does not have a particular bar or spot on his couch from where he’ll be watching the matches. But he still plans to watch as many as he can.
DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?
PA: “I’ll be on tour in Europe for most of it with The Iron Roses and I’m looking forward to the experience of watching some of those matches in that environment. All but one of the countries we’re performing in is in the World Cup. Additionally we have some time off so I’ll be in Paris for the semis and London for the final. It would be a dream if France or England were in those matches.”
DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for? Which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy?
PA: “Since my home country of Peru missed out in the playoff I’ll be pulling for the Yanks. My final four bracket is Argentina, Germany, France, and Croatia with Argentina winning the cup.“
DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premier League, Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?
PA: “Fulham FC from the Prem. Tim Ream is my guy, excellent defender and will be holding down the backline in Qatar for the US. I’ve forgiven him for being a former [NY] Red Bull (barf).”
“The team I’ve been watching and supporting since I was a teenager is D.C United (VAMOS UNITED). Grew up watching Ben Olsen play and then coach for DC. Named my first born Olsen.”
DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?
PA: “I’ve been a casual Fulham supporter for about 20 years since they brought in Brian McBride and are known for bringing in Americans well before it was common to see Yanks in European football.“
DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?
PA: “Played as a kid and through high school (rec). Didn’t really play regularly throughout my 20’s. In my 30’s I dove back into it pretty seriously in adult rec leagues here in Richmond. I’ve been taking it easy this past year with touring and stuff ramping up, I can’t risk getting injured.”
Dying Scene’s Nate Kernell has curated a special playlist for the World Cup. Check it out here and let us know what tunes should be added! Also, stay tuned for more installments of (World) Cup The Punx!
Frank Casillas founded Voodoo Glow Skulls with his brothers, Eddie and Jorge Casillas, along with Jerry O’Neill. He left the band in June 2017, making the announcement during a VGS performance at Long Beach, CA venue, Alex’s Bar. DS: Before we get to your new project, let’s go back to where you left off with […]
Frank Casillas founded Voodoo Glow Skulls with his brothers, Eddie and Jorge Casillas, along with Jerry O’Neill. He left the band in June 2017, making the announcement during a VGS performance at Long Beach, CA venue, Alex’s Bar.
DS: Before we get to your new project, let’s go back to where you left off with the Voodoo Glows Skulls. After so many years leading that band, how did the decision to leave come about at that moment in time?
FC: Well, I didn’t really plan a time and place to leave the band. It just kind of happened at a time when we were doing some weekend gigs here and there along the west coast, close to home, and some incidents that had occurred from within the band (ongoing arguments within the three brothers, differences between other band members, etc.) during this time just prompted me to just quit on the spot.
DS: How long did it take to make the decision to leave? Was there anything in particular prompting it?
FC: I had actually been thinking about leaving the band for at least five years prior to me actually doing it. For me personally, I was just burned out on the whole thing. We weren’t really being productive with writing new material, and it seemed like it was taking forever to record a new album. I didn’t really like the direction of the new material either. It just seemed like we were getting further away from the VGS style and sound that we were known for. Since we started the band, I was pretty much the main guy handling just about everything in the band business wise since day one, even when we had high profile management and everything. There’s always got be at least one person speaking for the band and making decisions on behalf of the band, and that was me for the longest time. Not only that, but I wore many hats besides just being the front man. I drove and maintained the vehicles, I was the tour manager, I organized and ordered the merch on top of also being a performer in the band. I also had a family with children, and I sacrificed a lot just to keep the band going when other guys in the band didn’t really care about anything else but playing and getting paid. We were constantly on the road being ran by a booking agent and it just became very routine. After a while, it just sucked everything out of me. Especially the creativity, and productivity aspect. I just wasn’t into it anymore and I felt like the band wasn’t really being productive and progressive like we used to be. I didn’t exactly leave on the proper terms and that struck a nerve with the remaining members in the band and some fans. But then again, I have never really heard of anyone giving a two weeks’ notice when they leave a band. My gut instinct just said it was time to leave and focus on me personally.
DS: Was there ever a time, either in the immediate aftermath of leaving the band or in the years since where you have had regrets about that decision or doubts that it was the best thing for you?
FC: “I helped start this band with my two younger brothers, and a neighborhood friend who was pretty much considered a brother. It obviously wasn’t an easy decision to leave after 27+ years. We accomplished a lot for just being a high school backyard party band that happened to tap into the youth of that era and play music that suburban kids could relate to. It was something that came natural to us, and we were just a product of our environment. It was hard for sure, and yes, for the longest time there were some mixed feelings of regret and guilt for just leaving like I did. But I also had my mindset of just moving on with my personal life and pursuing just me for the sake of the long-term, personal satisfaction, and personal well-being.“
DS: Is there anything you miss about being on the road with the VGS / with your brothers specifically or just being on the road and in a band?
FC: I miss the fans! I don’t really miss the travel aspect, or anything related to that. When you’re young, that shit is cool! But as you get older, it gets harder to accept some of the accommodations that are handed to you on tour. Of course, I miss my brothers. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some sort of betrayal by them. I fully understand that I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms. But I wasn’t okay mentally and physically and instead of being concerned about me possibly not being okay, they pretty much slandered me on the band’s social media and made me look an unstable person to our fans. I think that I deserved better than that regardless of the situation. I had done so much for our career, and I feel like my efforts and sacrifices as not only the front man, but a managing member went totally unappreciated and disrespected after all these years.
DS: How aware were you of the reactions from the fans of the band?
FC: The fans have always been great to me. Of course, I got some mixed reactions after leaving. Especially after I was blasted on the band’s social media for quitting. But I still get fans asking me to return. I get feedback from fans telling me that that it’s just not the same anymore without me, etc. There are also a lot of ex-fans who wrote me off. But that is to be expected, I guess.
DS: You spoke of great legacy when you announced you quit the band, how would you describe that legacy?
FC: We started off as just kids learning how to play instruments along with our vinyl records. We managed to tap into suburban kids and relate to their lifestyle through music that was pretty much inspired by our environment. This came at a time when we didn’t exactly have social media or the internet at our fingertips to help get exposure. It was all done organically and by word of mouth for the most part. Not only that, but we managed to transcend underlying racial boundaries and write bilingual ska/punk songs that Mexican, Chicano, and Anglo-American kids could relate to equally. We managed to do that for at least a couple of decades strong. If anything, I’m proud and happy that the band is still going strong without me. They have managed to reinvent themselves with a new front man and continue with their own version of VGS. It’s a different band for sure now.
DS: Please tell us about Tiki Bandits. What was it like to go from VGS to the TB? What were some of the most interesting differences you found, and any similarities?
FC: Tiki Bandits were never really a serious project for me. I started TB with some local friends in Arizona while I was still very active with VGS. It was just a side project for me, playing “punked up” cover versions of 50’s & 60’s tunes and an opportunity for me to stay somewhat creative and keep my musical chops up. I never really compared the band to VGS, as it was strictly just another musical outlet for me to just have fun and play gigs with no strings attached to a record label, a booking agent, or the industry in general. Sadly, we no longer exist as of 2021.
FC: The Hardyville Stranglers are my newest and current band that came together in 2022 between myself and some local friends who share musical interests in Punk Rock music. Nick Fielding, our bass player has a strong punk rock musical history and played in the band Narcoleptic Youth for 6 years before moving out to the desert like me. The guitar players Steve Blanks and Bobby Narmaki have musical roots in the So Cal punk scene and have also played in several local bands. Jose Ibarra, our drummer has played in some local area bands and was also my drummer for Tiki Bandits. Somehow, we all ended up meeting and coming together musically out here in our area where we all reside. We all live in the Bullhead City area, and Hardyville is what Bullhead used to be called back in the old Wild west days. That’s how we came up with the name of the band.
DS: How much, if any, of your work in this band has been affected or influenced by the decades with the VGS?
FC: I don’t really think about that to be honest. My experience obviously helps with logistical things like organizing stuff for the band. But we don’t really consider ourselves a real working band or anything. We’re just having fun making music without any boundaries. It’s a breath of fresh air being able to play music just for fun and without any expectations from anyone. It’s reminiscent of when I first started playing with VGS, and that makes it fun and exciting for me again.
DS: Are there any songs on this record you personally connect with. “Nobody Likes” for instance, is a song I think we all can relate to at different points of our lives. Even if our self-perception may not be accurate.
FC: “Nobody Likes” is just a song poking fun at how it’s so easy for people to just complain about anything nowadays on platforms like YELP or leave negative reviews, and just be a Karen or whatever. No real strong meaning behind it. Just a stupid observation, I guess. Lol
DS: How did some of the other songs on the EP come to fruition?
FC: Nick our bass player had some songs in his back pocket that he wrote years ago, and we brought them to life. That motivated us to start figuring out our own sound and go from there, to write a few of our own tunes collectively as a band.
DS: What was the inspiration for this album?
FC: Just a group of four guys getting together on Sunday evenings to play music and see what comes out of it. That’s really all it is!
DS: What are you looking forward to with this new group record.
FC: We really don’t have any set goals or anything. We can’t really tour extensively or anything because guys have jobs and families to feed. We are doing this just for fun and if we happen to gain some sort of popularity or success with it, I don’t think anyone in the band will be upset.
DS: What has the early reception to the record and the Hardyville Stranglers been?
FC: The reception has been great so far. We all commonly agree that punk rock has gotten soft nowadays. Punk used to be aggressive, anti-establishment a rough around the edges. Now it just seems polished, sensitive, and woke. So that pretty much influences us to just write stuff off the top of our heads and not really care about how it’s going to be received. So far, I think that it’s been working in our favor. We have gotten some good reviews claiming that we are a breath of fresh air for the punk scene.
DS: What is in the immediate or long-time future for The Hardyville Stranglers as far as you know right now?
FC: We are just playing locally right now with no real expectations or plans. Luckily with social media and the internet we can share our music to a much broader audience without having to go on tour or anything else. However, we are not opposed to doing a weekend here and there or traveling if the opportunity is there and most importantly, worthwhile for us.
DS: How has age and family/having children affected your approach to performing and all the related elements of being in a band.
FC: It gets harder as you get older. I don’t see how some of these guys are still out there doing this fulltime well into their 50’s and 60’s. I had small children and a family for a majority of my career in VGS and that made it extra hard to be gone all the time on tour. That was the hardest thing to deal with.
My kids are grown now, and I went through a divorce. I am just recently married again, and I have two step daughters that I am helping raise. I couldn’t see myself being able to leave on tour nowadays. Not only because of my new family, but my business as well.
DS: The final lyrics to “Disappear” are “Don’t Give A Fuck If I Live Or Die, I’ll Drop a Gear and Say Goodbye.” Again a sentiment it seems many people have had at some point in their lives. How do you relate to this sentiment, and does it bring you back to any specific moments or feelings in your life?
FC: I am and have always been a motorcyclist and enthusiast. I currently own three motorcycles and I live in a place where outlaw bikers are for real and part of the history here. That song is a biker song mainly, but it is also highly relatable to other non-bikers, I guess. I never really thought it that way to be honest.
DS: Why Arizona? Specifically, Bullhead? What went into the decision to leave CA for AZ?
FC: I left my hometown of Riverside, California for Bullhead City, Arizona in 2000 mainly so my kids could grow up in a safer and less influenced environment. I felt like California was just getting overpopulated, dangerous and super expensive. Pretty much how it is today! In my eyes, Bullhead City is paradise and still far enough, yet still within arm’s reach of my roots in California. We have the desert, mountains, the Colorado River running through town, and you just have more access for outdoor, recreational opportunities here in general.
DS: What are the differences you have experienced between the two states and the similarities. Same goes for Riverside v Bullhead?
FC: There is quite a bit of similarities between the two here. Most residents here have roots in California and have just ended up here to live by default. I have felt more sense of freedom living in Arizona and it seems like there are far less restraints living in Mohave County. The cost of living here is generally less and you don’t have as many outside influences living in the desert. Even though, things are rapidly changing because of the sudden high influx of people leaving California and moving here. It still has that small town and tight knit community vibe.
DS: You operate a bicycle shop – Rad Stop. Why bicycles?
FC: I grew up on my bicycle and they have always been a passion of mine.
DS: Please tell us about the business? Is there a story behind the founding of the business?
FC: I got my 4-year-old son involved in BMX racing as alternative to organized team sports. He took a liking to it immediately, he became very good at it, and when the local BMX track here in town opened, we had already been racing for a few years in nearby Lake Havasu. Parents at the newly opened track saw that my son was already advanced in the sport, and they started approaching me about helping them get their kid set up with the proper bicycle and equipment. After a few years of doing that, I realized that there was a need for a credible and reliable bicycle shop in the area. The rest is history, and I have been the longest and only operating shop here in my immediate area and within a 60-mile range for over a decade.
DS: Have there been fans of yours not aware that you run this business, come to the shop as customers and what has the reaction been if that has happened?
FC: Yes, it happens almost daily, and I have even had fans come through on vacation just to stop by, say hello, take photos and get an autograph.
DS: How often do you get out on a bicycle, and when did you learn? Do you remember your first bicycle and what kind was it? Banana seat, as was mine?
FC : I honestly do not ride a bicycle very much at all anymore for leisure or recreation. However, I test ride customer bicycles daily after repairing them. But I spend so much time working on them, that it’s the last thing I want to do on my limited spare time. My first real bicycle was a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat and a stick shifter that I got at the age of 10.
DS: What went into opening this shop up and running it?
FC: I opened my shop on a shoestring budget of one thousand dollars and a plan to set myself up with a backup plan to have something to fall back on after my musical career. I took on a job as a bicycle assembly technician for Kmart during some downtime with VGS and gained most of the knowledge from that, and a friend that was already in the business. I was running my shop via satellite while still actively touring with VGS and relying on others to help. It just never really got off the ground until I decided to leave the band in 2017 and pursue it fulltime by myself.
DS: Is there anything running a business has in common with leading a band.
FC: Yes, you must have leadership, management, and communicative skills to run any business. Being the leader and main negotiator for the band most certainly taught me how to be self-employed and take risks involved with being successful.
DS: You also ride motorcycles?
FC: Oh god yes!
DS: What is your main ride currently?
FC: I currently own 3 motorcycles. I had 5 up until just recently. But my favorite is my 2000 Kawasaki Ninja ZX750R sport bike.
DS: How often are you able to ride and do you take longer trips on it?
FC: I ride at least a few times a week, weather permitting. Which is pretty much year-round here where I live.
DS: Ride solo? How often in a group?
FC: I do ride solo occasionally, and that seems to be the most therapeutical. But I prefer to ride with a buddy for safety reasons, and no more than 2-3 people because group rides can be dangerous in my opinion.
DS: Please tell us anything you want to about family life and what you like to do when away from both music and the shop.
FC: Life is uneventful and slower paced nowadays. My bicycle business is a labor of love and a passion. I get pure enjoyment seeing people react when I can get their bicycles looking nice a working properly once again. As I mentioned before, I am recently remarried, and I am thoroughly enjoying being a family man again. I look forward to Sundays when we get together at my shop to rehearse and create new music with my friends in this new band.
DS: Does your son Cid play music or shown interest in performing?
FC: My son is a very talented independent hip hop artist. He’s a finance manager for FORD and that consumes most of his life and cannot pursue his music full time. But look him up! I have been to a couple of his local shows. El Cid or NTFB, on Spotify
DS: Cid is an advanced BMX rider. Were you a BMX rider at any point in your life?
FC: I grew up riding my BMX bike in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the sport was just getting started. I was fortunate to grow up in the same neighborhood and go to school with a lot of the early pros who went on to become legendary in the sport. My son is a natural and still races at the age of 24. He is a mentor at the local track and in my eyes a local BMX legend.
DS: Thank you.
FC: Thank you.
Hardyville Stranglers performance photos by Stoned Spider Photography LV. Other Frank Casillas performance photo by Dana Krashin as indicated. All other photos courtesy of Frank Casillas.
American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of […]
American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of New England punk tattoos).
It was their Discount Casket EP that gave me a little taste of what these guys had to offer. The only problem was I was left craving more, something a full-length could only satisfy. Luckily, my cravings were satisfied after a relatively short wait, and when I say satisfied, I mean that these dudes released a fuckin’ ripper.
Their recent release Parted Ways hints at the familiar Northeast sounds of the Gaslight Anthem and the Menzingers (who coincidentally were competitors of the same time slot during Fest 20) that many have compared AT to, yet they play their own unique brand of punk rock that I was glad to see added to the always reputable Wiretap Records lineup, one I can always count on the turn out stellar under-the-radar artists.
It was truly a pleasure to shoot the shit with 50% of one of my recent favorite Limp Bizkit-loving bands. These dudes have put out two EPs and a full-length that are truly worth checking out. Parted Ways is linked below, followed by the awesome chat I had with Jamie and Jeff. Cheers!
(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sakebecause a good chunk of this interview was just three guys shooting the shit.)
Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): Hey, it’s great to talk with you guys. I’ve followed you guys for quite a bit, I think right before Discount Casket came out. So yeah, I wanted to get started and talk to you guys obviously about the new record. Starting off, was this just like a collection of songs that you guys kind of built up and you’re just like ‘okay now we’ve got enough for a record’ or did you sit down with the end goal of like ‘let’s write enough stuff to release a full-length’?
Jamie Otfinoski: You know we wanted to write a full-length, but we did it kind of segmentally, we would do like chunks of songs and it was just a process. We would have demos we’d start to work on, then we’d jump to something else, then like come back to it. But ultimately the end goal was like ‘let’s put out a fuckin’ full length’. Because from my perspective, a lot of bands today do like single after single after single, and I get that because there’s like a method to the madness with like Spotify and all that shit, but at the end of the day like the bands I’m really into, like I’m into a record. I want a whole fuckin’ record and listen to a band to really get the vibe of the band.
Right, I get that. With you guys, you kind of released a single at a time leading up to the record, right, then you put out the whole thing?
Jamie: Yeah we did like four or five singles then we dropped like the last four songs all at once. And once again, that’s the whole thing with the internet, like Spotify and trying to build buzz, they want you to do singles. But ultimately we wanted to roll them into some sort of full-length so people could like sit down and check out our band with a little more than just like one song here and there.
So that was kind of a different approach from these previous eps you released?
Jamie: Yeah, you know we really wanted to, like we did two EPs, we’re like ‘we really wanna go all in and do a full-length’. And the guys at Wiretap were down to work with us on it which was totally rad and it made it that much more awesome. But we wanted to do something full and cohesive where we could do vinyl and finally put out like our first full-length record.
So what was the songwriting approach on this? Do you guys have one main songwriter or is it more of a team effort, what’s that look like?
Jamie: So Kurt, our vocalist/ guitarist, he kind of like, I wanna say he takes some of the reins. We always have a group text going and Kurt will like come up with a chunk of a song and go like ‘hey, check out this chorus?’. And then what we’ll do is we’ll get together and practice and we’ll kind of just like start playing it and rolling until we’re like ‘oh, that’s cool, what’s a cool verse to follow’ or vice versa. It’s like a collective approach, but somebody’s always bringing stuff to the table. Same thing with Paul, the other guitarist, he’ll have like a cool riff, he’ll lay it down and then we’ll turn that riff into a song. So it’s collective, but the two guitarists are kind of bringing the big chunks to practices.
So is there kind of a theme with this new record?
Jamie: You know, we’re like a bunch of old salty dudes that kind of like hate our hometown…
Jeff Wielk: I wouldn’t say hate…
Jamie: We don’t hate it, but you know, we don’t love it either. You know the record’s about like getting older, losing friends, losing family, you know just being disheartened by the people we kind of grew up with who maybe ended up turning out to be maybe not who we thought they would be. It’s just a theme of like get the hell out of our hometown, you know we’re old and salty.
Are you guys born and raised up there [in Connecticut]?
Jamie: Born and raised, yeah.
Jeff: Yeah all of us, we’re from the same hometown originally.
Jamie: You know up here in the North, we talk crap about our community, but ultimately, Connecticut’s not a bad place to grow up, kind of expensive I guess. But outside of that, it’s good people, it’s what we’re used to.
Jeff: We definitely could’ve grown up somewhere worse. New England’s got some great music.
Jamie: That’s the one thing about Connecticut too is like, the tours they come and they play in New York and then they skip Connecticut and play Boston. So we’re like right in the middle, you gotta either drive to New York or Boston to see the shows, nobody wants to play Connecticut.
So yeah, I wanted to talk now about specific tracks here. My favorite track off the record was “Ivy League Swing,” and I wanted to talk about what the songwriting for that looked like, the meaning behind it, some of its background.
Jeff: Paul, uh, wrote that initial riff in the beginning after the song starts with singing. And that first riff, that was like the first thing to come out for that song.
Jamie: That was one that Paul brought to the table and was like ‘I have this really cool guitar riff, let’s make it into a song’. We heard it and we were jazzed up on it and just kind of melded its way into that tune.
So this is more of a ‘me’ question, something I’m always curious about. What’s your guys’ songwriting look like, like how does it work; do you guys come up with like riffs first and then lyrics later, or I know some guys start with lyrics and then kind of build the song around it. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, how to kind of progress through writing a song.
Jamie: It goes both ways; sometimes Kurt will come to the table with like some lyrics over a little riff or a chorus and then we’ll expand on it, where other times, like that song “Ivy League Swing,” Paul actually came with a riff. He’s the guitarist, he doesn’t put the vocals over it, so Kurt kind of took the riff, changed it a little bit, and was able to make it into a song, put lyrics over it. Yeah it actually goes both ways with us, but I’d say for the most part, like 75% of the time, Kurt will have like some part of the song that has some sort of vocal guitar part together and we’ll just build off of it.
Jeff: Yeah like the main hook or whatever…
Yeah like I said, I’ve kind of heard it both ways and I’m always curious with everybody I talk to, I like asking that.
Jeff: Yeah I think it’s mostly instrumental. I’m 90% sure that Kurt kind of comes up with the lyrics afterwards.
So yeah “Ivy League Swing,” that’s my favorite track off the record. What about you guys, you guys have a favorite?
Jeff: Yeah, “Interpretation.” It’s just so different from what we normally do you know. Little bit different of a time signature, I don’t know. I’m like a mid-2000s emo-core kind of guy you know *laughs*
Jamie: I like “Sinking,” when we play live, it just starts off like fast and it’s got an interesting beat to it. It’s a quick little ripper. I like those songs live, they’re just fun to play because there’s so much energy.
You guys had that album release show the other night, what, at Stonebridge? Yeah how was that?
Jamie: Yeah a good old place in our hometown.
Jeff: It’s like a towny bar…
Yeah how was the reception there?
Jamie: It was awesome. Yeah we sold the place out, maybe like 150, 170 people. It was a blast. Andy from Hot Rod Circuit came out and he did an acoustic set. Split Coils played, which is Jay also from Hot Rod Circuit, they’re incredible. And this newer Connecticut band called Shortwave was just fuckin’ awesome. I mean it was really a great time seeing you know all the friends and just having all our buddies come out to see us play our hometown, it was just an awesome thing to be a part of.
Awesome, yeah. So I wanted to talk about Fest 20 a little bit. I was down there and it was actually my first Fest, wasn’t a bad Fest to start out on for my first one I guess.
Jeff: Yeah probably the best one yet.
How was your guys’ show down there?
Jeff: It was awesome, yeah. Super sick.
Jamie: The only downside was our set was right when the Menzingers were playing, which is like tough competition there. But all our buddies came out, we had a good showing, I mean it was fun. I like the smaller venues at Fest. Like I go to the big venues, like I go to Bo Diddley and I watch these bands, but I love seeing bands at like these smaller venues, like Loosey’s, and, where’d we play this year…
Jeff: Palomino, it was awesome.
Jamie: You like pack it out with a hundred people in there and it’s just awesome.
Yeah I think my favorite show from the entire thing was the Dopamines over at the Wooly. That was insane. Do you guys have a favorite set from Fest?
Jeff: This Fest I made it a point, I never even went to Bo Diddley. I never made it there this year. I made it a point to see like not big bands you know. So yeah, my favorite set, there’s this band, I wanna say they’re from Atlanta, and they’re called Seagulls. Dude that band was literally insane. And another set, they’re called You Vandal, they’re from Gainesville, their set was sick. They also did an AFI cover set.
Yeah I kind of agree with what you guys were saying about the smaller venue vibe, it kind of got overwhelming. Like here in Nashville, any of the punk shows, they’re all real intimate, not a lot of people there usually, they’re never sold out. So going to like Bo Diddley it’s a little overwhelming, like I’m seeing Avail but I’m all the way in the fuckin’ back, you know. But seeing like Dopamines, that’s more of what I’m used to. It was cool seeing these bands in these smaller venues that I’ve kind of idolized forever.
So then circling back to Wiretap, how’d you guys get on there, can you walk me through that a little bit?
Jamie: So you know, I’ve always liked a lot of the bands on there, like I’ve had a vinyl from like Spanish Love Songs and all these bands that I’ve followed and looked up to. And some newer bands too are on the label, American Television, some like kind of local guys that are just awesome. So we hit up Rob, we sent him something, we sent him like “Discount Casket” and he was like ‘hey, this is really cool, I wanna put this on …’ he does like a bimonthly charity comp towards like a good cause. He put that on one of his comps. And we were like ‘ oh cool, we’ll keep in touch.’ So then as we started kind of sitting down and putting tracks together for the full-length, we just hit him up again and we’re like ‘hey, we’re thinking about putting out a record, we’re gonna put it out hopefully before Fest. Are you interested?’. But Rob was really like gung-ho and down for it and got us rolling really early on. He was just a great guy to work with, I mean Wiretap has put out so many great releases and he’s so involved with like the scene and a lot of great charity efforts; he’s just overall a great dude in so many ways. So we’re happy to work with him and we’re lucky that we get the chance to put out a record with him.
Yeah I can’t remember when I realized you guys were on Wiretap, but I was happy to see you guys on there because they always have a real solid lineup, everybody on Wiretap I always love.
Jamie: Yeah it’s great.
So you mentioned the Menzingers down at Fest and your guys’ set times clashing, and when I first started listening to you guys, I immediately started getting Gaslight Anthem and Menzingers vibes. I think it was with Punk Rock Theory that they talked about sounding like GA also. But coming from your point of view, what are your guys influences?
Jamie: We get a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, I don’t know, maybe Kurt’s vocals and kind of in that vein. You know, we were in like old school pop-punk bands in the early 2000s, you know we grew up on bands like Hot Rod Circuit, the Get-Up Kids, and kind of like that genre of bands. But more recently, I’ve personally listened to a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, the Menzingers, they all kind of fall into the mix too. So I like to think we’re somewhere in between like those bands and that original scene with all the like emo punky bands. Some sort of blend of the two, I hope, maybe.
So what about a tour, do you guys have anything planned coming up for promoting the record?
Jamie: We’re trying to get something together for the Spring. We have a show coming up, but we’re gonna kind of lay low for the Winter and the holidays. We have a show coming up in January with Teenage Halloween, one of the local bands up here. Awesome if you don’t know those guys, they’re from Jersey actually, incredible. And then we’re trying to get something together for the Spring, we’re talking to some of our buddies around here to do a few dates, but we’re just trying to get everything together, we don’t have anything set in stone quite yet.
So Jamie, you’re the surgeon right?
So how do you juggle that with playing shows like that; how do you juggle having enough time with your band and with work because when I hear ‘surgeon’ you kind of think like 80-hour work weeks, crazy work times, no time off.
Jamie: When I was in residency doing all my training stuff, I wouldn’t be able to do what we do now. But now that I’m in private practice, I’m in a good group, I’m on reasonable call schedule. And they’re all supportive of what I do, they think it’s cool. But it is a balancing act with like trying to book shows and playing out around the call schedule. You know all of us are in like our mid-30s to late-30s, so we’re all like career, kids, jobs. So we get out there when we can, just little tours and runs, try to get down to Fest every year. But you know, I don’t see us going out for like a month on the road. We’re kind of weekend warriors at this point.
So a little off-topic, but let’s talk Limp Bizkit here *laughs*.
Jeff: Oh yeah that’s why we’re here!
In your Fest bio, you were called a Limp Bizkit cover band. Give me some background on that.
Jamie: You know *laughs*, we listen to Limp Bizkit. We grew up in the 90s…
Jeff: My first band was a straight-up nu metal band…
Jamie: Dude he was straight up playing Korn covers. You know like people shit all over these bands, we grew up on this stuff and we love this stuff, we embrace this stuff. As much as I like the Gaslight Anthem, I’ll spin a Limp Bizkit record too.
Jeff: Think about this, how many hardcore kids in the late 90s hated Slipknot, but those same hardcore kids now love Slipknot. Yeah I don’t know…
Jamie: With Limp Biskit it’s kind of like a funny thing, but we really like Limp Bizkit and people are just joking around like shitting on it. We listen to Limp Bizkit and we want everyone to know, we’re just trying to put that out there *laughs*.
Right that’s confidence right there *laughs*. Most people are too proud to admit it.
Jeff: Their newest record is fire man.
I’ve heard bits and pieces and it’s not bad. Well that about covers everything I think, I really wanted to hit hard on the new record, hopefully this can help promote it a little bit. We’ve actually been steadily seeing reader numbers rise since the relaunch, especially with that blink-182 thing a while back.
Jamie: Yeah Dying Scene used to be the shit man. Yeah back in the day it was like Absolute Punk, and then Punknews was always there, and then Dying Scene. They were like the three big ones. At least outside of like AP and all that shit I don’t really care about. All the bands I liked were on those sites, that’s where I was checking to find the new stuff. Glad you guys are back.
Yeah I appreciate you guys sitting down with me.
Jamie: Yeah thanks for reaching out and talking with us man, we appreciate it.
2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring […]
2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring heavily in support of the 10th anniversary of their album Cavalcade, an album that made even jaded old punks like me change my opinion on the Flats from being “a pretty cool young band” to “Oh damn, this band rules!” Wouldn’t you know it, 2020 had other plans for the Flats – and for all of us, obviously. Their self-imposed downtime of 2019 obviously bled into the global pandemic-imposed downtime of 2020 (and 2021 if we’re being honest) and coincided with some of the most widespread times of social unrest in probably half a century.
And so was the environment in which the Flatliners, somewhat secretly, finally got to work on crafting a new full-length album. The resulting album, New Ruin, marked not only a return to Fat Wreck Chords as a label home after a one-album stay on Rise Records for InvitingLight, but a return to a more frantic and aggressive sound that was a calling card of some of the band’s earlier work. It is, quite simply, some of the best and most pointed and most vital music of their collective career.
Oh by the way, that aforementioned career just eclipsed the twenty-year mark. That fact is, frankly, mind-boggling not only because the band has consisted of the same foursome – Chris Cresswell on vocals and guitar, Scott Brigham on guitar, John Darbey on bass and Paul Ramirez on drums – for its entire duration, but also when you consider that the band’s members are all in their mid-thirties. I know, right?
We caught up with the Flatliners’ inimitable frontman Chris Cresswell just prior to his heading abroad for a few shows with his other band – a little project called Hot Water Music – to talk about the last couple of years in the Flats’ camp, the writing of what turned out to be some of their angriest work to date, and the ability to simultaneously celebrate both the new album and the comfortable, confident place that the band finds itself at two decades into their collective career. Coming off of the longest break of their career seems to have left the band recharged and laser-focused on what’s to come.
Read our full Q & A with the always affable Cresswell down below. Oh, and check out New Ruin if you haven’t already. Here’s our review of the album, which is out now on Fat Wreck Chords and Dine Alone!
(Believe it or not, the following has been condensed for content/clarity reasons.)
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how’s it going?
Chris Cresswell: Good man! Just actually enjoying ten days of home time between tours. It’s been a wild, wild year. I’ve barely been here, I feel like I’m more riff than person this year. (*both laugh*) But in a good way. It’s nice to be back to it. I’ve had a couple little chunks of time at home lately, which is good, man. Necessary. Fill the tank up, you know?
Congratulations on twenty years (of The Flatliners as a band)! It was officially twenty years, what, last week?
Yeah, (September) 14th.
That is wild.
It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, you know? It’s strange to think that it’s twenty officially now. Last year we were planning all the stuff we were doing this year, anticipating the 20th, and we were just like “how the fuck does this make sense?!”
When you can measure the span in multiple decades, it kinda does weird things to your brain.
I went to a show for the first time in a while this weekend. I saw Face To Face, and we were doing the math, Scott (Shiflett) and I, while we talking, and I realized it’s been 25 years since I’ve known those guys and that we’ve been friendly. Like…I have people in this scene that I’ve been friends with for a quarter of a century…
A few days before the band turned 20, Scott (Brigham) and I realized that we’ve been friends for thirty years. We met the first day of kindergarten, and in Ontario at least, the first day of school is always right after Labor Day. So, we were like “well, we met in ‘92,” so we looked up Labor Day of ‘92 and double-checked it with the school district calendar and we were like “damn, officially thirty years!” So it’s been a big year, for a lot of reasons. Those are two of the big reasons in my life anyway. It’s been a lot of reflection, but it’s good too, because it’s positive reflection that can propel us forward. As much as we’ve been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Flats, it’s nice for us to also have a new record out to celebrate the present and take us into the future. It’s not all just pure nostalgia train. And that stuff is cool, I have no problem with that. It’s a powerful drug! But I’m just glad there’s both things happening.
You talked about reflection, and we’re coming out of a time where we were all sort of forced to stay home for however long any of us chose to stay home for…did this period of reflection on twenty years sneak up on you after not really being able to do anything but reflect for a while?
Certain elements of it did, for sure. As much planning and scheming as you can do as a band, everything still comes down to the wire. Everything needed to be done yesterday (*both laugh*) and that’s kind of the nature of the music business at large, as well. But to be honest, that downtime of those couple years, we were pretty well prepared and organized in terms of getting to work and making sure that things were ready for when they needed to be ready. Knowing when we wanted to put the record out – inevitably that got pushed to the summer, but we wanted it out earlier than that – but that kind of always happens anyway, pandemic or major vinyl delays aside – so that was okay. 2021 was pretty well organized and planned. The lamest way I could put it I guess is that we executed everything in a pretty timely manner, which was cool. Because we had 2020 to basically, like, forget we were in a band.
How much stuff did you guys have to cancel in 2020?
A lot, really. A lot! Because we had basically taken 2019 off.
Yeah, back in like spring of 2018, we were like, “well, by the end of this year, we will have gone everywhere we could go on Inviting Light, let’s do something we’ve never done before and take a break.” It was weird to talk about it at first, and then we were all behind the idea, because we all needed it. We had never done that, and it was just years and years and years of solid, heavy touring. 2019 we played two Flats shows, officially, and then we played like a private party with friends and family, and then we did like a Smashing Pumpkins cover set at a different show…which was cool! It was fun! So the idea was that we’d come back and do the Cavalcade 10th-anniversary tour pretty much everywhere, and then we would make a record at the end of 2020 and hit the road in 2021 with a new record, and we’d hit all those places again that we had just hit with the Cavalcade shows. And then all of that took a shit! (*both laugh*)
We canceled a lot. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t announced. I think there were only two tours that were announced that we had to cancel – I think the UK and Europe one was in the spring of 2020, maybe late April? And then we had a West Coast run in May or June that was announced. But we had shit booked for the whole year. The first month was basically like, who knows what the hell is happening…at first it was postpone everything, then forget that, cancel everything and just figure out how we’re all going to survive and if there’s a way the band can help with that. I mean, we all have lives outside of the band too, which is why taking the break was nice in 2019 and onward. It ended up being I think what everyone needed. Because I know myself and I know that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would have been on tour that entire time. I needed that, and I needed for it to be that everyone was home from touring! (*both laugh*)
And I don’t mean that as a competitive thing, it’s just that knowing that this is what I do, and this is what makes me feel most like myself…especially after a year off from The Flats at least – Hot Water was busy but Flats had the year off… I was kinda ready to hit it pretty hard again. But in the end, I was very thankful to have that extra time off. The first few months, we were just chilling and not doing much and kind of enjoying some downtime as best you could. As strange as it was and as many horrifying things that were happening in the world, it was comforting to be home for the first time in forever. And then the writing really started late summer, early fall or 2020. Once that started, it was just like laser focus on that.
Was that the timeline anyway? If you wanted to put out an album in 2021, would you have been writing in the last part of 2020 anyway?
I think we probably would have tried to put a lot more ideas together in the first half of 2020 – or at least spring and early summer while we were touring. We don’t write a lot on the road, but at least if we had ideas we could share them that way and start to compile the list of ideas, and then finetune them when we got home from tour. The idea was to record a record like fall – end of the year in…I guess 2020.
It’s all a blur. (*both laugh*)
Yeah! And it doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen that way, because the way it went down for us is the only way that everyone else knows about. It was nice to have that extra time and to write a lot…
Did you write a lot more for New Ruin than for previous records?
A bit more. We always are in the habit of writing more than we need. For most records, we end up with about twenty songs kinda ready to go. Some of them are always inevitably not as strong as others. For this record, we wrote…I think the final count when I was sending the guys all these ideas I had was like twenty-five or -six. Something like that. Some were fully worked out, some were not, but then we just kinda whittled it down to what we put on the record.
Did you go into it with a direction, either sonically or lyrically, that you wanted to focus on this time?
I didn’t set out to do that, but very quickly with what I was writing about and how the songs kinda felt energy-wise, it seemed like there was a pretty clear vision. Well, there was a pretty clear thesis statement which was “People suck (*both laugh*)…and the world is fucking crumbling all around us.” From there, the benefit of having all this downtime is that I had a lot of time to think about how I personally wanted to bring these ideas even to the rest of the guys, and then us as a band, what we could do together to solidify that even further and go into the studio with a really clear vision sonically and thematically. I had a really clear vision at that point lyrically. And then even not just that stuff, but how we wanted to roll out the record, what we wanted to do with videos… Lucky for us we were working with Fat (Wreck Chords) again obviously, who we fucking love – there’s a reason we’ve gone back, because they’re just family. And with Dine Alone in Canada, it’s great. The whole team is strong.It was the strongest and clearest vision I think I’ve ever had and that the band’s ever had going into something. For sure.
Did it sorta snowball on you, the idea, especially thematically, start as the snowball at the top of the hill or whatever they say and then just pick up steam once you realized there was obviously plenty of subject matter to choose from…because it seems a little more focused than just saying that “people suck”…it seems like a really focused and direct record.
That’s true, that’s true. I’m trying to think of the first few songs I sent to the guys…oh man, I could probably tell you…(*pulls out phone*)…One of the first songs I sent to the guys was “Rat King,” and that was a song where I was like “racism sucks and white people are THE WORST! (*both laugh*) So I’m going to write a song about that.” Maybe that’s a shock to people that that’s what that song is about, but it is! (*laughs*) I never really know what a song’s about until the lyrics start coming. Sorry, I don’t mean to do this during the interview but I feel like it would be cool to know (continues scrolling through phone)
Do you hate actually talking about what the songs are about? Because I know some songwriters don’t want to spoil that thing where “once I write it, it’s not mine, it’s yours” – but sometimes I like to know how the sausage is made.
For sure. And I think with other records I’ve been like “Well, just listen to the song because it feels like it should be pretty obvious.” And that’s I think because on previous records, a lot of it was that I’m a product of my environment and I’m writing about what I know. During all those years of making most of those records, pretty much from The Great Awake up until Inviting Light, a lot of it was on the road, really heavy touring years, and I’m writing about that. I’m writing about what that does to me, what I’ve seen that do to other people, how that feels. And it’s not always negative stuff, but it’s that experience. But this one, having done a lot of the writing at home and seeing and reading and learning about how fucked pretty much everything was around all of us for so many reasons, but all of them really at the end of the day being at the hand of human beings, I don’t mind talking about it because I made a decision to write more about what was going on in the world around me rather than my view of the world.
So, here we go…the first three songs that I sent to the guys were “Rat King,” “It’ll Hurt” and another song that we didn’t record. “Rat King” was one of the first ones that was out there, and it’s a very angry and pointed song about a particular thing and particular people. I think from there – well, “It’ll Hurt” is maybe more like a bit of the older lyrical style that I’ve done over the years. So it was cool to have both of those things kind of running alongside each other, those themes of like how I feel in general and how the world is making me feel right now. At some point, I decided to go down that one path of “let’s just talk about the world and what’s happening right now.” And I’m no expert on any of these subjects, these are just my opinions, you know? (*both laugh*) But if someone out there is reading that “Rat King” is an antiracist song and they’re shocked by that, that’s kind of troubling. And if they don’t like that, we don’t want you to listen to that song. We don’t want you to listen to our band (*both laugh*) if you’re not an antiracist person, you know?
Seriously, it floors me every time that stuff like that comes up from whatever artist, from Woody Guthrie to Springsteen to Jason Isbell or whoever, when people are like “shut up and stick to playing music” it’s like…boy, you have REALLY not been paying attention at all, have you?
No, and like, my God, how many people have learned about how to use their voice through music, you know? It’s a cultural wave that hits people in different ways, but it hits people! It’s similarly confusing when I meet someone who, hen we’re talking and the topic of music comes up and I say “oh what kind of music do you like?” and they say “oh, I don’t really like music.” I think “oh, I don’t trust you at all!” (*both laugh*)
And I know that’s subjective because, I mean, music is my entire life, but really, you can’t even tell me like what music you like? And when you hear it, it makes you feel a certain way? I don’t know…
That’s weird. It’s like people who say they don’t like dogs or whatever. Or cats, I guess, although unlike you I’m an anticat guy.
See that’s the thing though, people have an opinion about which animals they prefer. But when people are like “oh, I don’t really like animals…”
That means you’re a sociopath.
“What, you don’t like joy?” (*both laugh*) But really, it was nice to have that time to sit and think about how much I hate the fucking world! (*both laugh*)
Right, but then, as a songwriter, I don’t want to say that’s an awesome responsibility because that’s probably overstating things, but does that seem like it’s a big responsibility, to say “I want to actually talk about this shit in a way that makes sense to me and hopefully to people who have been following and listening to me for twenty years? Because that’s a lot to take on. We had nothing but time to pay attention. It wasn’t just that things sucked for a long time – and probably stll do – but we had all the time in the world to focus on how much it sucked. We had to focus on how racist this little country to the south of yours is …
Hey man, mine too! Mine is no angel. People like to think it is, but we have got a dark history.
Well and some of that came out during the two years of hte pandemic, with all of the news about the indiginous kids at the Catholic boarding schools. It’s an overwhelming responsibility to be able to put some of that shit into words in a way that makes sense, no?
I think that there is definitely a responsibility there. It’s a choice I made to write about this kind of stuff. I’m no authority on the subject, but I know how it makes me feel. At the end of the day, that’s always what I’ve done, it was just different subject matter. Now having all this time to sit in those uncomfortable moments and let those pieces of information – those horrifying pieces of information – the thing you just mentioned about the residential schools in Canada, for instance, let that bounce around in your brain for a while and see how that makes you feel. It’s not going to make you feel good because it’s a terrible thing, to say the very least. It’s a horrifying thing that happened. It is an absolute privilege of mine, and I know that to be true, to just be able to be the guy to sit there and write a song about it instead of being somebody who lived through it, you know what I mean? I understand that there’s a difference, but I’m trying to put my opinion out there in a song in a way where maybe, like we said earlier, it can hit someone in a way that it allows them to think about an issue a little differently.
Or, really at my age now, I’m 35, and I’ve been able to write music for a long time and express the way I feel for a long time, but I feel like at this age – maybe for some people it’s a little earlier or a little later – I feel like I’m part of my community. I feel like I’m a responsible person adding to a community. I’m not trying to take anything away from it, I’m trying to add to it, but not trying to take up too much space or time or air either. That’s very tricky to do in music and in art and this type of thing, but at the same time, there are so many people with maybe a dwindling but a still-existing attention span to hear your ideas, you know what I mean? That’s how I started to think about it and feel about it as well. I’m just trying to add to my musical community with something positive. Essentially, having the conversation about these issues, or at least putting my side of the story out there – and my side of the story is that human beings are the fucking worst and we could do so much fucking better (*both laugh*) better to ourselves, to each other, to the planet, all these things. It was all hitting me so hard because I had time to sit around and think about it. Otherwise man, I’d be on tour, I’d be in a fucking bubble, I’d be living a tunnel vision life like I always was. Not every song on the record, but a lot of the songs on the record are about these particular issues…they’re not new issues, they’re things that I’ve now been able to try my best to compute this kind of information and put it out there. That’s why that record is so angry, because it was not an easy time for anyone!
Did that inspire the sound of the record too? It’s sort of interesting to listen to the last two records back-to-back. The first song on Inviting Light…”Mammals” starts with that sort of slow build. It becomes an uptempo song obviously, but to contrast that opening with “Performative Hours” which punches you in the face right from the beginning and the album doesn’t really let up from there. Was that a conscious choice too, with the heavy subject matter, to put that heavy music behind it as well?
Yeah. Some songs, the lyrics come first even in little fragments, sometimes it’s the music…well, it’s hard to say really which happens more than the other. But if the lyrics came first or at least I knew what I wanted to write about, I knew that the energy of the song had to match that, and vice versa. Because I was already in that mindset of being just pissed off, a lot of the music was very angry, so I knew that the lyrics had to match that. To be honest, once we had a good pile of songs to listen through – the ideas were still being worked on, but once we had a handful of songs where we were like “whoa, this is angry,”…the guys were like “whoa, you’re pretty angry.” (*both laugh*) Like “why not, of course I am, how could I not be?” (*laughs*) I think at that point we were like “well, let’s just make a record that’s going to punch people in the fucking face” like you said. Once the consensus was to open the record with “Performative Hours,” which was an idea that came up early on, we were like “oh yah, this is perfect!” We were able to build off that so well. Musically I think it takes twists and turns throughout the record, but once we chose the songs that we wanted to put on the record, we were like “damn, this is pretty relentless actually.” And that’s what we wanted to do, and I’m so happy with it. And it was the most fun that I’ve ever had making a Flats record, which is funny because it’s the angriest record we’ve ever made by far! (*both laugh*)
And it’s also really guitar-heavy! I mean obviously the Flats have been a guitar band, that’s always sort of been at the front and center, but it’s really riff-heavy this time. I think I texted you when I first heard it that, like, I had plans – my wife and my daughter went out of town for a weekend, and I think I got your album and Jerry sent me the new Mercy Union record on the same day, and they are both really good, guitar-heavy albums and there are so many riffs that I just like “fuck having plans, I just want to play guitar and figure out riffs tonight!” (*both laugh*)
I love that!
But that seems like a bit of a stylistic difference too. Does that come from sitting around the house for a couple years and just playing guitar, or did they come when you started writing with the guys?
A bit of both. It’s always a mixed bag. Each record turns out to be a response to the previous record. I think on Inviting Light, we were trying to build – it turns out – a bit of a different vibe and a different style. We were so close to it that we didn’t really realize what we were doing fully, but I can say that I knew when we were writing the record that we wanted to let a lot of those Inviting Light songs breathe. There were more subtleties, and we’d talk a lot about that it was just as important to know when not to play as it was to know when to play. With this record, we were just like “no, let’s just hit ‘em with everything!” (*both laugh*) Each record becomes an exercise in these things, which is really cool, and we’re lucky that the four of us in the band have gotten to do this together over all these years now. We discover more of ourselves each time we write a song together or make a record together. Part of what we discovered on this record is that we just wanted to fucking rock, dude! (*both laugh*) I know it’s so stupid to put it that way, but it’s real! The energy and the theme of the record and how angry the material ended up being, we’re like “well, we’re going to make this record sound as insane as we can, as powerful as we can.” Sonically that was the vision going into it, that we wanted to make it sound big. Not like something we couldn’t replicate live, because that’s always a bummer, but something that we could just hit people with. Because then when we play these songs live, we are going to feel the power of these songs and we’re going to bring it even harder. Especially after a couple years of not being able to play at all together, let alone go on tour, there’s this newfound excitement. Like, I’ve gotta relax a little bit on stage.
I was just going to ask that.
I’m ready to like kick a hole through the stage every night because I’m just like “I’m fucking back!!” It feels really good.
And then you get three songs in and you’ve got to take a knee. You’re in your mid-thirties now, man…
My first show back was a Hot Water show, and it was at Furnace Fest in Alabama in 2021. I was terrified before the show, I was nervous, I was anxious, I thought I was going to forget everything. And the first note we hit, I was like “ oh fuck yes!” and I was literally stomping so hard on the stage. I think Chuck sang the first three songs and I was like “I gotta chill! I’m like winded and I’ve gotta sing in nine minutes.” (*both laugh*) And it’s the same with the Flats now, man. When we got together to really dig through these ideas as a band after almost a year of sending ideas back and forth, this was now late Summer 2021…the four of us hadn’t been in the same room in almost two years! It was the longest it had ever been. It was amazing and it was emotional and I remember like a week after that when we went to go record, after doing like a week of (pre-production), we did like a “have a good show” thing before we were recording and we kinda all went “fuck, man, this feels powerful.” There was an energy to it, man, and it sounds kinda cheesy but it’s true. It had been so long at that point since we had done anything together, and we kinda knew what we had to. Not in an arrogant way, I hope it doesn’t come across that way because I hate that shit, but there was a confidence in what we were building together and what we wrote and were going into record. Knowing what we wanted to do helped us feel so confident that we were like “fuck, this is going to be awesome.” We’ve never really operated that way before, we’re kinda like “well, I hope people like it!” With this one, that’s still the case, but I think that all of those things – the time away from each other, the time away from this, the time away from the band and being able to do our quote-unquote thing – it just kinda solidified the love for it and the power in it to us, you know?
Well because that could go the other way, right? You could take two years off and just not really be in it anymore or just get to a place where you think you’ve done everything you wanted to do in music or with the band and then be on to the next thing.
And I respect that too, man. It totally depends on the person. I’ve got a lot of friends actually who made that decision since everything that’s happened the last few years, and I respect that. The four of us, like I said, each have lives outside of the band and things have changed. Touring nowadays, we can only operate in a certain way. That’s cool though, because it keeps it special and it keeps, maybe, that feeling that we’ve discovered when making this record and now celebrating twenty years and everything WITH the new record, it keeps that energy and that excitement alive, instead of “hey, let’s go on tour for ten months straight…” (*both laugh*) Fuck that, man, oh my god.
Is this the first time you’ve written a full album without playing any of the material out before? Like, would you workshop things on the road before?
We’d show each other ideas but we wouldn’t jam a lot on tour. We did that a little bit on Cavalcade, and we just felt like we were annoying the people that were working at the club. Because we were soundchecking, and in that era we weren’t headlining the show so if we were opening the show, we might get a thirty-minute soundcheck if we got one at all. The fucking bartender and the venue staff do not need to hear us working through the same 16 bars of an idea over and over again (*both laugh*). We started to do it offstage. Jamming and putting it together as a cohesive thing always happened at home.
Once the songs are fully fleshed out, though, are there songs that would actually make their way into the live set before anyone heard them? Because now everyone’s had a chance to get to know the album for a while before you can hit the road.
I think we’ve always been a little bit protective of playing new stuff before it’s out, and I don’t know why really.
I feel like that’s a YouTube thing.
Yeah, because people videotape shows and put the whole thing up on YouTube now, so if you have a song that you’re sort of woodshedding, why play it in front of people because then everyone knows what it is, and then maybe you don’t even like that song or maybe it takes a turn in the writing process, but now you’re sorta stuck with the way it sounded that one night in Detroit in June or whatever.
Totally. We actually did this very recently with “Rat King” for the music video, but that was the first time we had done that in, I don’t even remember. It was a long time. It could have been for Cavalcade or something, because we recorded a big chunk of Cavalcade one year, then we went on tour for like nine months or something, and we finished (recording) almost a year later. So I’m sure in that era of Cavalcade being like half done or three-quarters of the way done, we were probably playing a couple of those songs live. But, for “Rat King” we did a video shoot in Toronto and part of it was a show we played. We ended up doing this last-minute show at our friend’s bar, Hard Luck, and it was like a week’s notice. No one knew why we were doing it. We had a Midwest tour coming up and we were like “fuck it, let’s play a show in Toronto, and we can film it. We’ll let everyone know we’re making a video, so if you don’t want to be in the video, go to the back, if you want to be in the video come to the front! (*both laugh*) We’re just going to play this one song that you’ve never heard before, and that was kind of exciting. That was the first time we had done that in a while and it was cool. But aside from that…I think “Performative Hours” was already out at that point, maybe “Souvenir” was already out or was about to come out. People knew there was going to be a record, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to play a new song. I think that’s maybe why, because in the past we haven’t wanted to do that because it kinda spoils the surprise. We like to record records kind of in secret. We don’t typically post stuff from the studio
I was just thinking that, yeah. I was looking back at the Flats Instagram account and I did notice that you didn’t post teaser things or whatever from the studio, it was like, all of a sudden here’s the cover art and the first single!
It’s similar to the way that we wanted the record to sonically and musically be, that kind of relentless slap in the face. We wanted to just be like “WE’RE BACK! SURPRISE!” And also, you never know how long after you finish tracking a record, how long the entire process will take. Like for instance, we’re talking today, the 26th of September, and the last day of tracking in the studio for New Ruin was October 3rd of last year. So we finished almost exactly a year ago. Then our friend Dave did some piano tracks at his home studio after that, and then mixing we took our time with. Because we like to take our time with this stuff. That shouldn’t be a surprise to any Flats fan at this point (*both laugh*). So I think part of me and my approach to it which I think trickles down to the guys – only because I’m the most neurotic with this shit, more than Scott, Paul or John – is that, if we put it out that we’re in the studio, people get excited hopefully, and then like a year later the album comes out? I feel like you kinda lose the excitement. You’d lose it on me at least. If it’s a band I like pulling that move, I’ll have completely forgot that I saw that picture or watched that video by the time the record comes out. So we like to be a little secretive about it. It’s fun! There’s not a lot of mystery left in the world, so if we can create a little bit, it’s fun for us!
At least from a new music perspective, it’s been a bit since we’ve heard from Cory Branan. The criminally-underrated Memphian singer-songwriter-guitar-virtuoso released his last studio record, Adios, on Bloodshot Records back in April 2017. For most artists who’ve found themselves making anything resembling a career in the music industry, the cycle typically goes a little […]
At least from a new music perspective, it’s been a bit since we’ve heard from Cory Branan. The criminally-underrated Memphian singer-songwriter-guitar-virtuoso released his last studio record, Adios, on Bloodshot Records back in April 2017. For most artists who’ve found themselves making anything resembling a career in the music industry, the cycle typically goes a little something like this: write an album, record an album, tour an album, lather, rinse, repeat every couple of years ad infinitum. Branan made it through at least two of three stages on the Adios cycle but then, well, then life got in the way. That’s not to say that he was holed up in Tennessee twiddling his thumbs for the last half-decade; far from it, in fact. It’s just that there was the whole thing about the demise of his former label (Google it…or don’t), the demise of his marriage, the ongoing responsibility of parenting a couple of kids…oh, and there was that whole thing with the plague.
And so fast-forward to the present day and we find Branan awaiting the imminent release of his sixth studio album. It’s called When I Go, I Ghost and it’s due out this Friday (October 14th) on a brand new label (Blue Elan Records) and it’s good. Real good. Overwhelmingly good. And I say that as someone that was familiar with more than half of the record through a combination of live performances and streaming events and digital-only compilations put together during the quarantiniest days of the pandemic. It’s got all of the hallmarks of classic Branan: detailed storytelling filled with his patented razor-sharp, quick-witted evil streak, varied sonic feels and textures that invoke the best parts of 70s (and, I suppose, 90s) album radio, massive, death-defying guitar riffs and a level of musicality that somehow takes more twists and turns than the lyrics they provide the soundscape for. It’s just that the highs are higher and the lows are lower and the textures are…texturier.
When I Go, I Ghost is comprised largely of songs written prior to the Covid pandemic. The years immediately prior to the shutdown found Branan changing up the way he had worked for the first decade-plus of his career. More specifically, he worked himself into the habit of writing increasingly while he was on the road in the years leading up to the plague breakout. It was not, at first, a skill that came naturally. “I would normally write when I got home off the road because I’d be restless,” Branan explains. Having young kids, however, allows a different outlet for that restlessness. “When I had kids, and especially when Clem came along…I’d want to get off the road and just catch up. Like “who’s this kid? He’s a completely different kid than he was when I left three weeks ago!”
Eventually, Branan forced himself to change his routine. “I find that if I get up in the morning, before I start the car, if I just start making connections and looking at things around me and actually seeing, you know, instead of just driving down the road, then I can write.” The new methodology worked well, to the extent that in the lead-up to the pandemic, Branan was especially prolific. “I had a good year…I wrote like fifty songs, which is how I wrote when I first started writing (music). I hadn’t written like that in a long time.”
That prolific tour-based writing period obviously came to a screeching halt along with the rest of the music industry and, frankly, the rest of real life in early 2020 with the dawn of the COVID pandemic. But that doesn’t mean that Branan sat idly by waiting for things to reopen. In addition to hosting a weekly Instagram Live-based chat show called UMM… that found him chatting with songwriting buddies like Brian Fallon and Ben Nichols and Amanda Shires, Branan also put out a series of five B-sides/glorified demos/oddities compilations called Quarantunes: Now That’s What I Call Isolation, taught online guitar lessons (to people like my brother), worked on his drum machine/synth skills, and set up his own home-based recording rig.
Skip ahead a bit and it was time to hit the actual studio with a virtual treasure trove of material to pick from. As mentioned above, Branan had already been playing a handful of the new tracks live, and if you’ve ever caught the Cory Branan live show more than, say, once, you’re no doubt aware that each song continues to take on a life of its own the more it gets played, and it’s probable that you’ve never heard the same song played the same way twice. “You know me,” says Branan, “I’ve gotta keep myself interested on stage, so I tend to take ‘em out and play ‘em.”
And so even if you’ve gotten familiar with a newer song like “Oh, Charlene” or “Pocket Of God,” that doesn’t mean you really know the song until you hear it on When I Go, I Ghost, complete with the full scope of sonic textures and layers of instrumentation. As an aside or an editor’s note or whatever you want to call it, even though you’ve maybe heard his Quarantunes track “Stepping Outside” – a damn-near perfect tune about a literal ghost who is leaving his own funeral – and expected that it would obviously be on an album called When I Go, I Ghost, you’d be wrong. Probably too on-the-nose, but that’s why I don’t pretend I’m a songwriter.
Though he might play most songs live accompanied only by a guitar, they tend to be written with a much larger sound in mind. “Usually as I’m writing, I hear them a certain way, and it’s almost always more fleshed out,” Branan explains, adding in a way that’s both charmingly sweet and hauntingly morbid (which, I guess, sums up a lot of his songwriting), “when I’m dead and gone, I would like for the songs to live on in the form that I hear them in my head.” While getting in the studio might open up a song to added creativity when it comes to instrumentation and overall feel of a song, the song itself already exists, at least in Branan’s brain. “I don’t just want a skeleton, I want all the clothes and the flesh on it, and I want it to be able to tell a story musically, rhythmically, lyrically (when) stripped down to just a guitar and me, then when we take it to the studio it’s just fun.”
While Branan obviously had a lot of personal experience to pull from during the ongoing songwriting process, divorce namely, a cursory listen to When I Go, I Ghost will reveal that, as is par for the course with much of his catalog, many of the songs are not outwardly personal. Some writers have that thing where they’re very clearly writing about their own experiences, but they do so in a way that it’s relatable to the listener. A personal favorite of mine in that area who travels in many of the same circles as Branan is Dave Hause. Branan, for his part, tends to agree. “He derails mystique, you know? Dave’s music is great because it goes outward and it’s useful. “He’s like ‘here’s an example of my thing, but it’s really for all of us; it’s all of our thing.” Branan has a habit of building characters and putting them in sometimes compromising or less-than-desirable positions, almost creating mini four-minute sonic movies. “I’m not a confessional writer,” he states, adding “I think only one song, “That Look I Lost,” deals with (divorce) pretty straight, but even then, I made the music undercut the sadness of the song. I wanted that Motown thing where it’s kind of a triumphant sadness.”
When pushed a little more on the topic, Branan explains somewhat coyly that “I just don’t interest myself very much,” adding “I’m as narcissistic as the next person that stands on the stage with a microphone, but I just don’t find my life or whatever else to be that extraordinary.” Instead of writing confessional-type narratives, Branan is able to turn his experiences into something constructive nonetheless; it’s just in a different form. “I do find that if I make something out of my emotions or construct something out of it and form it…into a shape that’s outside myself, I can pour all of that into it.”
Much of that character-building and storytelling traces its way back a number of years, although not in a typical songwriting way, as the forty-seven-year-old Branan is quick to point out that while he has been playing guitar since he was thirteen, he didn’t write his first song until he was almost twenty-five. Instead, he shouts out one particular teacher who helped pave the way for the raconteur he became. “I had a really great creative writing teacher in high school, Miss Evelyn Sims,” he explains. “I was just fucking off in school and she was like “here, I know you’re not interested in what we’re doing, so here’s some Henry Miller.” She sorta steered me into stuff she knew I’d be interested in.“
Branan hits the road later this week for the first of the When I Go, I Ghost tour, a run that’ll take him pretty much through the end of the year. And strange as it might be to think about on the eve of the release of his first studio album in more than five years, he’s looking forward to the long drives and the time they’ll give him to start crafting new characters and stories to help make sense of the last few years in a new and different way that might be beneficial to people in his own unique way. “I personally use music like that. It’s gotten me through a lot,” he explains. “That’s my highest goal, to have these little things that are useful.“
Pre-order bundles for When I Go, I Ghost in a variety of different options are still available here; get ’em while they’re hot! You can also find the latest on Cory’s tour schedule (including a bunch of solo dates and a run with American Aquarium) right here. Scroll a little further and you can read our full Q&A. Unlike the first time Cory and I spoke for an interview story, I actually didn’t forget to hit “record” this time!
(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sake. Also I tried to find the eight-year-old story that I wrote around the release of Cory’s The No-Hit Wonder album based on an interview we did at an Irish bar he was playing in New Hampshire, but it seems to be lost to the annals of internet history.)
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how are you? It’s good to chat with you again. I have to say congratulations on the new record. I’ve been a fan for a long time obviously and I’ve known probably half the record already, whether through Quarantunes or from seeing you live a few times the last couple of years, and even still, I was floored by how the album came out. It is REALLY good.
Cory Branan: Yeah it was fun! The songs have been around a piece, I had a bunch of other ones too, but this just sort of felt like a batch that was kind of kin to each other. But you know me, as soon as I write them I start playing them, so people know them by the time they come out. I don’t know another way to do it, you know? I’ve gotta keep myself interested on stage, so I tend to take ‘em out and play ‘em.
Yeah, but they tend to find a new life. I think it’s fair to say that if someone has seen you more than twice, not only have you heard a different set but every song doesn’t sound the same every time you do it. You tend to chase them a bit. Like, there’s a couple on this record that I feel like I’ve heard a bunch from Quarantunes – because those were such fun records – maybe “Room 101” and “Angels In The Details” that are such different songs that it took me a bit to recognize them. When you’re writing a song, do you have in your head “okay, I know I’m going to have to play it like this, but ultimately I know what I want it to sound like in a bigger format, or does some of that difference come out of chasing the song while you’re performing?
Usually as I’m writing I hear them a certain way, and it’s almost always more fleshed out. I play solo out of necessity, you know? Fiscal necessity. And so, when I’m dead and gone, I would like for the songs to live on in the form that I sort of hear them in my head. But then again, I go in the studio and I try to stay interested in the music. I’ve heard these songs (*both laugh*). So that one in particular, “Angels In the Details,” I wrote a nice little melody finger-picked on the guitar, and on this record, some of those finger-picking things I gave to other things. There’s a synth part there, there’s strings…to me it’s like, well, I wrote the melody, who gives a shit what instrument it’s on. (*both laugh*) To me, it’s more interesting and engaging in the song if that gets switched over to a synth or this or that. I approach it more as a musician rather than as a ‘singer-songwriter.’ I have ambitions a little bit beyond strumming the old acoustic guitar (*both laugh*).
Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite things are people standing there delivering stripped-down songs. But that’s how I know I have a song. If I went in and built these songs in layers and layers and stacked stuff on each other and added some lyrics and went out there with an acoustic guitar, I’d be playing and it would be like “oh shit, there’s not a song under here.” (*both laugh*) I don’t just want a skeleton, I want all the clothes and the flesh on it and I want it to be able to tell a story musically, rhythmically, lyrically, stripped down to just a guitar and me, and then it the studio, it’s just fun.
I feel like sometimes it changes the context of the song too. I feel like “Angels In the Details” especially, I (think) I heard it differently because of all the instrumentation. It paints a bit of a different picture when it’s just you and an acoustic guitar. Or even an electric? I feel like you’ve done that one solo on the Telecaster when you’ve played it live.
Yeah, I do ‘em all on different nights on different instruments. I might bring this piano out too this time and just sorta move around. I just have to stay interested in them. They do work their way into new iterations on the road and I find different things about them. Even once they’re done, like, I’m learning all these songs on piano and I’m just like “AWWW! I blew it!” Like “Pocket of God” (*plays riff on keyboard*) it’s like “oh crap!” All I’m doing is the guitar riff in the song and it’s really low, I’ve got the strings accenting it, I’m like “oh man, that would have been such a good little thing on piano, I should have accentuated it.”
See but that sorta changes the image that you have of the narrator in that song too if it’s just you and a guitar versus just you and that little synth riff. Like, I feel like I tend to see a lot of your songs visually because of the way that you build imagery into the song…
…so you start to put together a picture of the guy that’s singing that song, because obviously it’s not you. Or maybe it is…
No, that one’s not me. I’m a piece of shit, but not like that piece of shit (*both laugh*).
And that’s a thing we can get into later – not the being a piece of shit part, but the sort of thing that we do as listeners where we make the narrator of the song the writer of the song, where we don’t do that for, say, filmmakers necessarily –
Or almost any other art.
And it’s sort of unfair that we do that to musicians that we do that.
Unless…so many musicians use that mythos for mystique and stuff. That’s never interested me personally, but some people make whole careers out of that, and their songs being them, that whole thing.
You mean Springsteen? (*both laugh*) I love Bruce Springsteen, I really do, but…
He works in stories, He came to represent things that were bigger than himself, yeah. But he works in stories. But your Joni Mitchell’s and people like that…some people come to expect a confessional…
And some guys, well, not just guys, but some songwriters do that. They are writing their lived experience and sort of explaining it to you in a way you can relate to. I think Dave Hause does that super well. A lot of Dave Hause’s material is about his life, he doesn’t necessarily create a lot of characters, but he’s really good at tapping into that “thing.”
Yeah, and it’s great. He’s good too because he derails mystique, you know? I like it when people write about their life but they make it outward facing to where it’s useful for everybody else. To me that’s a dead end, when you’re writing about your life but you’re only pointing it back at yourself. Dave’s music is great because it goes out and it’s useful. He’s like “here’s an example of my thing, but it’s really for all of us, it’s all of our ‘thing,” you know? I like that. I don’t do that very much personally, but I can appreciate that.
Do you think that’s a…I don’t want to say a “skill” thing because “skill” isn’t the right word to use there…but do you think that’s just a thing that some people do better? Like, they have that “thing” where they can write about personal things that way where some people are better at creating characters and telling stories…
I don’t know, I think it’s just that sometimes you have your natural dispositions, you know? Your inclinations. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot and when I start to think about things like that (*both laugh*) it’s detrimental to creating, I find. I just try to not think. And honestly, for me, I try to not exist. I’ve said it before, but I just don’t interest myself that much, you know? And I’m as narcissistic as the next person that stands on the stage with a microphone, but I just don’t find my life or whatever else to be that extraordinary, you know? But I do find that if I make something out of my emotions or construct something out of it and form it into a shape – into art, really – into a shape that’s outside of myself, I can pour all of that into it, and then it’s in a shape that it’s hard to knock over. It’s something that can be taken and, ideally, used. Because I personally used music like that. It got me through a lot, you know? Five times a week I sing that Petty line “most things I worry about never happen anyway”! I might as well have it tattooed on my forehead. That’s my highest goal, to have these little things that are useful.
When did you realize that that part was a thing that you did particularly well? I think it’s one thing to be a guitar player and to come up as a kid learning how to play guitar and to understand that you’ve been building skills and that you’re a pretty good player. But when did you realize that you could write like that pretty well, and that you could create those sorts of characters and narrative things, did that come from writing music, or did that come from writing in general in school?
Probably writing in general, but I didn’t write a song til I was almost 25, and I’ve played guitar since I was thirteen. But yeah…I had a really great creative writing teacher in high school, Miss Evelyn Sims, she was wonderful. I was just fucking off in school and she was like “here, I know you’re not interested in what we’re doing, (*both laugh*) here’s Henry Miller…” She sorta steered me into stuff she knew I’d be interested in. I loved to read, I’ve always loved poetry. I love the conciseness of poetry, and when I started seeing writers that could do that, your Guy Clarks or your Leonard Cohens, their songs are like Yates poems or something, you know? I always enjoyed that. It might be because I did it relatively late in my youth, so I don’t have a lot of embarrassing solipsistic things. I mean, not that I had my shit straightened out at twenty-five (*both laugh*).
Yeah, you might be in a different place if you wrote songs when you were fifteen. That’s a different trajectory.
Exactly. They would have been much more self-absorbed and much less usable and user-friendly.
I know you sorta got into the habit of writing a lot on the road.
Yeah, I had to sorta train myself to do that, because I never did it at first.
I don’t remember if that’s a thing that we’ve talked about before or if I’ve just seen you talk about it, but was that the last few years before the pandemic that that started? And is that where a lot of these songs came from?
Yeah, absolutely. I have talked about it before, but I used to not write on the road because I’ve mostly toured solo, so it’s just work getting from place to place. I would normally write when I got home off the road because I’d be restless, but when I had kids, and especially when Clem came along – because my daughter from a previous relationship is in Tulsa – when we had Clem, I’d want to get off the road and just catch up. Like “who’s this kid? He’s a completely different kid than he was when I left three weeks ago!” So I had to teach myself to write on the road. I would systematically; I find that if I get up in the morning, before I start the car, if I just start making connections and looking at things around me and actually seeing, you know, instead of just driving down the road. If I start connecting separate things in that mind-frame, then I can write. I had a good year (before the pandemic); I wrote like 50 songs, which is how I wrote when I first started writing. I hadn’t written like that in a long time. That turned out to be good because the plague happened (*both laugh*) and I was too busy learning how to mix and record at home so I could do those Quarantunes records and so I could pay the bills and shit. So fortunately I had a good run! I went in to demo those songs up; I did a batch of like thirty of them and I trickled some of those demos out on those Quarantunes records.
Were those things you were demoing just with your setup or did you go into the studio?
No, that was before I even had my setup. I went in before quarantine to the old Sam Phillips studio with Matt Ross-Spang, before he moved into his own place there.
Oh man, it is world-class. It’s so gorgeous. It’s amazing. I dropped in when Ben and his daughter came in to do that synth record. I dropped in when she was singing on it, and it is so good.
I’m really looking forward to hearing that.
It’s really good! When I did that tour with Ben, we were drunk back at the hotel and he was like “listen to this!” We listened to the whole thing twice. It’s not mixed or anything, but man, it was fun.
It’s interesting that for a guy who rather notoriously says he cannot be harmonized with…although maybe that’s just a matter of not wanting Brian and John C. singing. (*both laugh*)
She sings some in unison a lot too. Their voices are different registers, but man she can really sing. It’s great. It’s so cool, and I’m just so jealous of it. I’ve tried to get Clem to make music with me…like, I’ve got my whole room tricked out, and he likes to dance and stuff, so I’ve got a drum machine and I’ve got all these hue lights set up and I turned it into fun town room and nope…I can’t get him to hang and make music with me. He’s got his own world with Pokemon and tae kwon do now, which is great. But Ben getting to make music with his daughter, I’m just like “oh I am so jealous!” (*both laugh*)
And I wonder if that’s an age thing too.
It probably is. Clem’s too young.
Yeah, and they’re always going to not like what their parents like for a while.
Well, what his dad likes. (*both laugh*) He likes everything his mom likes for now. I’m sure it’ll flip-flop in his teens, but we’ll see.
There are actually a couple of songs that I know either from the live show or from Quarantunes that I’m surprised weren’t on the record. “Steppin Outside” I think is chief among them. I think that song is brilliant from start to finish. I think the whole perspective of the song and the way that you tell the story, and musically as well, I think it’s perfect. So I’m surprised that song wasn’t on the record. There are others like “Teeny Says” is a cool song, “Me and Your Mom n’Em” is a fun song but I can see where maybe those don’t fit. What went into the math of what made the final eleven?
Well, there’s actually fourteen. There’s three we pulled just because they don’t fit on the vinyl so they’ll come out on the deluxe thing. They’ll just go right up on the internet, it’s not like I’m trying to charge people twice for anything. You know, I never write records that fit sonically, but thematically, they’re all in one way or another dealing with a sort of restlessness and stasis – and I wrote the bulk of them before the plague, you know? But leading up to the old lady and I getting a divorce, that might have informed it a bit. Again, I’m not a confessional writer, I think only one song, “That Look I Lost,” deals with it pretty straight, but even then, I made the music undercut the sadness of the song. I wanted that Motown thing where it’s kind of a triumphant sadness. But in general there’s some things I was dealing with, and some stories just resonated with me. Yeah, that “Steppin’ Outside” song is an okay song. One of these days, I’ll probably do a record with sort of those types of songs; relatively traditional songs with fresher angles. I have some other songs like that. That particular song was just odd man out. There were a lot of those.
Well, when you have fifty songs to choose from…
Well, that was just that batch, I have some old ones laying around too. That batch was all over the place, and I just sort of found the ones that were kin. And the ones that we pulled, I think the record is better with them, but they are reiterations of themes. There’s one that Adam Lazzara sings on and it’s one of the darker ones, but it’s sort of a reiteration of not so much the vitriol of a “When I Leave Here” but it’s sort of a psychotic song, and I was like “well, I’ve already covered that area.” And then the other two, I put “Son Of Mine” on there and I put “Gatlinburg” on there, and we cut them relatively roots. “Gatlingburg” is like a fucking Glen Campbell kind of thing. And “Son of Mine” is like The Beatles doing country music. They were fun, and I think they came out great, but they were pretty jarring.
And I like jarring from song to song, but they were going to have to be placed right on the album, and I found that since I was going to have to pull some for vinyl anyway, I would just do the eleven. And actually, I was going to just do ten but it needed a breather right towards the end, so I put that “Come On If You Wanna Come” on there which is a lighter one. Some of the themes are still there in the verses and stuff like that, but the record itself is like “I’m going out, come on if you wanna come.” It’s a very, very simple tune, and I was just thought the record is very dense, like I tend to do, and it needed a little bit of an opening thing right before it got to the closer.
I’m really curious to listen to it with the three additional songs now. I’ve listened to the eleven-song version more in the last week than I’ve listened to most albums in most weeks, so now I have this image of the album in my head and now it’s going to completely change when the three extra songs get added on.
I like that! (*both laugh*) And I think that most people that form an opinion of the record before the deluxe thing comes out will understand why I chose those songs to hold back.
I tend to be a bit of a brat about that sort of stuff. When people put out B-sides and I think “this is a really great song, why wasn’t this on the record,” but then because I’m not an artist or a musician, I don’t think of the 10,000-foot view of it sometimes and how things actually fit.
That’s how I’ve always done it before. All my previous records, except for The No-Hit Wonder where I was trying to make a thirty-minute record, all the other ones are like an hour long so I’ve always had to take tracks off for the vinyl, where you can’t go over thirty-eight or forty minutes. So I’ve always just taken them off but put them out on the CDs or put them out (digitally) with the initial release. Nowadays you’ve got to fool the algorithm gods, because the record is DOA. Everything is pre-ordered, all the press is right before it comes out, then six months later nobody talks about a record anymore; there’s no longevity. So you see more people putting deluxe things out. Originally I was just going to be like “well, I’ll just put out some of those demos that nobody’s heard, throw some acoustic demos on.” And then I was just like “no, let’s just make a tight thirty-eight or forty-minute record and then add those songs as a deluxe thing to fool our algorithm lords.
When does tour kick-offfor this particular run? Next week, yeah?
I leave the thirteenth and the album comes out the fourteenth. I’ll be out for the rest of the year with little breaks here and there. I take January off and then I think I go back out in February.
What was the longest that you went during the plague without playing in front of people?
All of it until we got that first false “all clear,” so I guess June of last year. I started touring a bit then, and I’ve done like three or four tours almost with like every new strain.
Has it been good getting back out there, and I say that knowing obviously that it’s good because that’s why people do it, but was it nervous at first getting back out?
Nope, it’s great. I love it. I need it. I mean, it’s a fiscal necessity, but I enjoy it. Everything between getting off stage one night and getting back on stage the next night in the next town is a pain in the ass, but those two hours on stage is the only therapy I get. It’s great. Things changed obviously, a lot of clubs didn’t hang on, the road is really competitive because everyone is trying to tour. The paradigm shifts a little bit here and there, but honestly this whole business has changed out from under me three times since I started. I started right around the time of Napster (*both laugh*) so now we’re in the Spotify era and that genie’s not going back in the bottle. It’s not like people are going to say “oh I can have all of those songs for only ten dollars, let me start buying records again!”
I really miscalculated that, because I thought that people would still buy records. People still bought records when the radio was free and when cassette tapes existed.
Everything gets more niche, you know? So you have your fans and they have to, unfortunately, be more supportive. They come to the shows and they buy the records on vinyl even though they maybe have the record digitally already. But it’s great. I’m not hanging sheetrock, so it beats that.
I was reading that interview we did eight years ago and we talked about how it seemed like there are a lot of little clubs that weren’t hanging on so the market was becoming more competitive for the smaller, 90 to 200-capacity clubs, and I thought “boy, if we only knew!”
Yeah! “It’s gonna get a lot worse!” It’s all gonna be LiveNation eventually and all the radio is going to be ClearChannel. But again, music is always going to come from the ground up and the interesting stuff will exist in pockets of isolation and as a reaction to that stuff. It’s not going to stop, it just makes it harder for the average music fan to be exposed to things. It’s like trying to dip a glass in the ocean to get a glass of fresh water, you know? Good luck! It’s just all out there in the thinnest layer of pixels. I mean, I had to search growing up in Mississippi, but I had to search because it literally wasn’t there. Maybe you had a Sam Goody in the mall or some shit, but you’d get subscriptions to the magazines that covered the bands you liked, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t want to be trying to discover new music as a young kid right now. I don’t even know where you’d start, it’s just a bombardment of information.
It’s TikTok, which is weird to say.
Yeah, and it’s sort of a race to the bottom for our attention span. It’s like “look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” And that’s the thing now, people expect you to be an artist, but they also expect you to be a full-time self-promoter. I do the social media things now and then when I want to just put a picture of my kid up now and then or say something stupid on Twitter, but I also don’t want to be promoting myself 24/7. I don’t feel good about that. But I also have a work aesthetic and I have a job, and so I try to balance that with what I’m interested in.
This may be a weird question to ask when the new album isn’t out yet, but as someone who was writing primarily on the road and then had to stop for a couple years, are you looking forward to writing again as well?
Absolutely! Absolutely, yeah. I found that last tour where I wrote a lot, I think that’s a nice balance for me. There are only so many damn audiobooks you can listen to. I’m looking forward to the long drives.
The fourth album can be a bit of a curious point on a band’s timeline. The dreaded “sophomore slump” has long been in the rearview, and generally by the time the fourth album roles around, a band is at or around the decade mark in their career. It can be a time of transition; a […]
The fourth album can be a bit of a curious point on a band’s timeline. The dreaded “sophomore slump” has long been in the rearview, and generally by the time the fourth album roles around, a band is at or around the decade mark in their career. It can be a time of transition; a time to build off some old influences and also to incorporate new feelings and directions out of a desire to keep from getting stale or repetitive. Sometimes, the results can be ground-breaking, at least sonically if not always commercially or critically. Ignorance Is Bliss by Face To Face, for example. Darkness On The Edge Of Town. No Code. Sandinista!. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Life Won’t Wait. Question The Answers. ZOSO, or however that translate without the ability to add runes to the text here. So on and so forth.
And so here we find The Interrupters. The widely beloved LA-based ska punk band are back with In The Wild, due out August 5th on Hellcat Records. Recorded during the forced doldrums that were the shutdown of the last couple of years, the album finds the band (which surpassed the decade mark during said shutdown) building on the high-energy, rock-steady core that they’ve built over the course of three records and hundreds of shows, revealing a work that is their most varied, most introspective, and, subsequently, their best effort to date.
We caught up with the band’s air-tight rhythm section, sensational twin brothers Jesse (drums) and Justin (bass) Bivona to talk about the album’s recording and its personal nature. While much of the process for In The Wild was similar to the band’s previous output, there were a few marked differences that shaped the direction of what was to come. As Jesse explains the fourth album cycle, “one of our little press points about this record and relating it to the previous records is that the first album is kind of like a first date, where you just talk about surface-level things, nothing too crazy. Second album, you start to let them know a little more about you. Third album, you’re kinda getting into the nitty-gritty. Fourth album, all the baggage is out, the drama is revealed, all the secrets are out.”
The secrets are indeed out in more ways than one on In The Wild. It is by far the band’s most personal album to date, and it’s their most sonically diverse album to date, and both of those things are by design. Thinking back to the early days of the band, specifically around the recording of the band’s self-titled 2014 debut record, Jesse describes that the band was “just trying to keep it simple. We weren’t trying to reinvent anything, we were just trying to be a straight-ahead ska-punk band.” The more cohesive the band god, the more layered and textured the sound became, and the more outside influences began to creep in. While still very much an Interrupters record, In The Wild showcases sounds that include traditional reggae and rock steady and 2-tone and 80s punk rock and ‘50s doo-wop. The album closes with “Alien,” which centers around Aimee’s soaring, heartfelt vocals and is, as Jesse points out, “the first Interrupters song with no guitar on it!”
The seeds of In The Wild were initially sown in the early days of the pandemic shut down two years ago. The very early days. In fact, quite literally, the first day. The band had taken a few weeks off after wrapping a lengthy touring cycle for their 2017 album Fight The Good Fight – an album that continued the band’s launch into a higher stratosphere based in part on the crossover success of the single “She’s Kerosene” – in February, and was planning to return to Tim Armstrong’s studio in early March to begin work on album four. That plan was foiled just as it was beginning. “Day one of us going into the studio,” explains bass player Justin Bivona, “was that day where the NBA was canceling, and Tom Hanks had Covid…” After a few ‘wait and see’ days, recording plans – and, frankly, most of real life – got put on pause indefinitely, and the band retreated to what they affectionately refer to as The Compound; Justin and Jesse live in one house while the twins’ bandmates and, more importantly, older brother and sister-in-law Kevin and Aimee, live in the house next door. The two houses share a driveway and, more importantly, a garage, the latter of which would come in handy in a pandemic shutdown.
After some time spent doing what the rest of us did – binge-watching TV shows and movies, going for walks, and reflecting on their lives-to-date. As Justin tells it, that process “Aimee got to do a lot of looking back on her past and realized there was a lot of stuff she hadn’t written songs about.” And so even though the band had plenty of material they were going to work on in the studio at the beginning of 2020, writing eventually continued.
So, too, did recording, though the band didn’t have to go far. “At some point during (quarantine),” explains Justin, “Kevin was like “we need to do this record at our house, in our garage.” It’s a tiny 10×20 room that we would practice in, but it wasn’t treated, there wasn’t any studio equipment. So we spent maybe a month building things. Me and Jesse with power tools building racks to put gear in and tabletops and stuff. Pretty much “tiny housing” the studio to make every part of it work.”
This created the freedom to work together at their own pace. There’s no need to reserve studio time or book an engineer when you can do it all, effectively, in your collective backyard. That moved Kevin, the elder statesman of the Bivona brothers, officially into the producer’s seat. Tim Armstrong, who both oversees Hellcat Records and executive produced the first three Interrupters records, “told (Kevin) to just grab the reins and take off” says Justin, with Jesse quick to point out that their big brother has “always kinda been the shadow producer of everything in a sense.”
And while it may seem daunting to have your bandmate – and older brother, steering the ship, the timeline and the setting and their relationship made for a smooth, collaborative effort. “If we’re working on something and it’s not working,” explains Jesse, “all four of us can be like ‘well, what if we try this, or what if we try this,’…there are no bad ideas until you try (something and realize it’s bad.” “It was just us as a cohesive band, the four of us, working out songs and writing songs, and it really informed the process,” adds Justin. “It was the best thing we’ve ever done.”
The more that writing and recording continued, the more that the direction of the album revealed itself. “Aimee realized that the record was pretty much her life story,” says Jesse, adding “so the songs that didn’t fit with that theme we pushed aside and focused on the ones that told her story the way she wanted to tell it.” Because the lyrics bare so much of Aimee’s past, the task of recording vocals involved being in the right headspace to tackle some of the memories that were evoked. “Doing on the property,” reveals Justin, “it allowed Aimee the freedom to record vocals whenever she felt emotionally connected enough to a song” to power through it, a freedom that proved vital as it is apparent on first listen that Aimee dug deep lyrically, reflecting on some of the messier parts other upbringing and past relationships and grief and loss and trauma and mental health struggles that she has worked on over the years.
The added time and convenience of the recording process allowed the band to work through multiple versions of songs, in order to make sure that the emotion of the music matched the emotion of the lyrics. “There are a couple songs on this record where they were recorded one way and pretty much done,” explains Justin, “but then it wasn’t just fitting in with the rest of it when we would get back there. I think specifically “Love Never Dies” had a totally different feel, it was more of a rock/reggae Clash-y song. And it was dope, but it wasn’t fitting in with everything.” Jesse elaborates: “(Kevin) said “Jesse, play a one drop” so I played this one drop, and then he said “Justin, play this bass line” (*mimics bassline*). And then he said “okay, watch” and he just started skanking, and then he started singing this melody the way that it is now, and we played that for like four bars and just stopped. We were like “yeah, that’s it! Now we’re on to something!”
The result is one of the more straight-forward reggae songs in the Interrupters’ catalog to date. It also features a guest appearance from The Skints, the UK reggae punk band who recently wrapped a successful run opening a bunch of US shows for The Interrupters and Flogging Molly. The Skints are just one of an impressive handful of guest starts that found their collective way onto In The Wild; Tim Armstrong lends his vocal talents to a track, as per usual, but so too do Rhoda from The Bodysnatchers and Alex and Greg from third-wave ska legends Hepcat. The latter recording session occurred at Armstrong’s studio once the initial Covid waves had subsided and society started to open up again. As Jesse tells it, “it was a magical session to be a part of.” Justin explains “Greg and Alex came in and…we wanted them on the song (“Burdens”), but we didn’t really have the part. We went in with them and showed them the song and within a minute the two of them are sitting there writing the parts and figuring it out together. It was so cool to see because they’re literally our favorite ska band.”
It was yet another moment in a decade-long journey that has found the foursome feeling eternally grateful for the opportunities they’ve been presented; playing with longtime idols like Rancid and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Joan Jett and Green Day, playing legendary venues, getting introduced by RuPaul on the Jimmy Kimmel show (as was the case the night before we spoke). Case-in-point: the three Bivona brothers served as the backing band for The Specials during a fundraiser event in Los Angeles back in February, a mind-blowing moment that got overshadowed by the fact that a mini Operation Ivy reunion brokeout pre-set as Jesse Michaels and Tim Armstrong joined for a cover of the Op Ivy classic “Sound System,” an event that damn near broke the punk rock internet. The gravity of those situations is not lost on the band, by any stretch. “The moment that starts getting old is the moment that you’ve gotta start packing it in and figuring out what 9-to-5 (job) you want,” says Jesse.
Keep scrolling to read our full Q&A with the Bivona twins, Jesse and Justin. Pre-orders for In The Wild are still available here. And check out the full list of upcoming Interrupters tour dates, including their European run and leg 2 of the US dates with Flogging Molly, right here.
(*Editor’s note: The text below has been slightly edited and condensed for content and clarity.*)
JS: First and foremost, congratulations on another successful appearance on Kimmel!
Justin: Thank you!
JS: So this is probably then the second coolest thing you’ve done this week…
Justin: For real though, it is good to see your face!
JS: Is that the third time now on Kimmel?
Jesse: Nope, two! Four years ago we did “She’s Kerosene.”
Justin: Almost four years ago to the day. It was like July 26th.
JS: Man, how time has flown. The Kimmel show seems like it’s a cool one to do because the audience is right there, versus some of the other late-night shows where they’re sitting back and you’re kinda playing to the cameras as much as anything. That seems like a cool one.
Jesse: Yeah, they make it seem like it’s an indoor club show,
Justin: Which is really cool.
Jesse: It’s really cool. And the whole staff and crew there is excellent. They’re very nice. We had a GOOD time yesterday.
JS: And you got to hang with RuPaul, that’s pretty cool!
Justin: He’s super nice too!
Jesse: So nice!
Justin: An old punk rocker and a big ska fan too!
JS: I had no idea!
Jesse: Yeah, he played in a punk band in like the early 80s.
Justin: He loved The Selecter and The Specials.
JS: So then he’s totally going to dig your music, especially the new album!
Justin: He gave us the best soundbite! He just said “It’s time for some ska music, bitches!”
Jesse: We were on stage and just looked at each other like “WHOA!” (*all laugh*)
JS: Does that stuff ever get old? And I know I probably know the answer to that question, and actually I think I’ve asked Kevin and Aimee that sort of stuff before, but playing in massive crowds, playing in places like Fenway Park, playing for RuPaul on the Kimmel show…does that stuff ever get old?
JS: I feel like I knew that was the answer…
Jesse: The moment that starts getting old is the moment that you’ve gotta start packing it in and figuring out what 9-to-5 you want.
JS: When I started doing this Zoom interview thing during the early days of Covid, it was really to sort of check in with people. I was used to doing more phone interviews and then I’d type them up and write a story, but A) the website crashed so there was no publish things anymore for a while, but I liked the idea of actually chatting with people when they were in quarantine and we were in quarantine and you could see each other and stay connected. We’ve been in this weird situation for so long now that music that came out of quarantine is coming out commercially. That’s sort of the long way of getting into In The Wild, which is a really, really, really great album and I know I say that about each one that you guys put out, but the bar just keeps getting raised. So let’s talk about that process. When during lockdown did you realize “well, we’re not going to be out on the road for a while, and we’re not going to be able to go into a studio for a while, so fuck it, let’s do it ourselves”?
Justin: Here’s the thing. We finished the Fight The Good Fight album cycle tour in February of 2020. We ended in the UK with two amazing shows in London. The plan was to finish that and go home. Kev and Aimee were going to start writing for a couple weeks, and then we were going to go into the studio in March. Day, like, one of us going into the studio to record, was that day where like the NBA is canceling and Tom Hanks has Covid.
JS: Right! That’s when we really knew the world was ending!
Justin: Yeah! So we were going to go back in the next day, but everything started getting canceled, so we put the weekend on hold and then the next week on hold, and then the month, and everything just got shelved. So we were sitting at home, and couldn’t really do what our plan was. But it was nice at the same time, because we had just kept rolling for ⅞ years. There was no break. So we finally got to sit back and wait a little bit. We did the live record to give something to the fans during the break, and with that we did the documentary, This Is My Family, and put it all together as like a cohesive concert film. Kinda while we were doing that, we got to reflect on our past and Aimee got to do a lot of looking back on her past and realized there was a lot of stuff she hadn’t written songs about. At some point in the middle of that, Kevin was like “we need to do this record at our house, in our garage.” It’s a tiny 10×20 room that we would practice in, but it wasn’t treated, there wasn’t any studio equipment. So we spent maybe a month building things. Me and Jesse with power tools building racks to put gear in and tabletops and stuff. Pretty much “tiny housing” the studio to make every part of it work. And then they had some songs and we would just get in there the four of us with Kevin producing and work out these songs. It was a fun process because there were no outside distractions, there was no one else we had to worry about, it was just us as a cohesive band, the four of us, working out songs, writing songs, and it kind of really informed the process. It was the best thing we’ve ever done.
JS: So there was stuff written to be recorded back in March of 2020 when you first got off the road?
Jesse: Actually the one day that we did spend at the studio, we were working on the instrumental for “As We Live.” That was the only thing we recorded at Tim’s studio before everything got shut down.
Justin: I think they had “Alien” kind of on the docket, and “The Hard Way” was in there also.
Jesse: Yeah, they had done a few weeks of writing so there was a batch of songs. A lot of those songs got shelved because they didn’t fit the whole record idea. Once Kevin and Aimee started writing a lot, Aimee realized that the record was pretty much her life story. So the songs that didn’t fit with that theme we pushed aside and focused on the ones that told her story the way she wanted to tell it. We’re stoked on how the whole thing came out.
JS: How far into that writing process did the real direction of the album start to take shape, or at least when did she tell you that that was the direction that the album was going to go? And did that involve sit-down conversations…like, I know you’ve been family for a long time but that maybe there’s some shit she was going to sing about that’s a little…
Jesse: No, I think it happened kind of naturally, and it wasn’t until we had like
Both: Eighteen songs
Jesse: …that we were working on that it was like, okay, this batch is all very cohesive. I feel like we’re saying that word a lot? (*all laugh*)
Justin: It was a theme, you know?
Jesse: Yeah, and these other ones, they’re good, but they distract from the message we’re trying to send here and the themes we’re trying to talk about.
Justin: Yeah, once it was like, there’s all these songs (*gestures*) it was easy to look at the board and say, “well, these fourteen (go together).”
Jesse: And there was even a time where we weren’t completely…where we didn’t have like the last three figured out, and we dug up an old one, and once Aimee looked at it, it was like “actually, if I just rewrite these verses, this could fit.” That was “Worst For Me,” which was a sleeper favorite of mine. That song rips.
JS: That song is great, yeah!
Jesse: But it was on the back burner for months! It was just like, we recorded it and then we just forgot about it.
Justin: That was the other great thing about the process. We had so much time just sitting at home that they would finish a song and live with it for six months, then come back to it and say “oh, this song needs a bridge.” Then they would just write a bridge and it would bring the whole thing together. We’ve never really had the opportunity to sit and live with something and then come back to it and fix it. Usually in the studio, it’s like record it, it’s done…
Jesse: Go on tour, it’ll come out when you’re on tour. The most time we’ve ever had off in this band was maybe two months, right before Fight The Good Fight came out. And that wasn’t really time off, that was us preparing for the album cycle and the release and all that. So to be forced to sit on our hands during the pandemic, it helped a lot.
JS: What did you do otherwise to keep creative, musically or otherwise, to keep from getting into those doldrums when it seemed like the world was never going to open up and that sort of thing?
Jesse: You know, that’s a good question. We did what everybody did…binge-watched a lot of TV…
Justin: We did get to a point after the first few months where it was like, “okay, we’ve gotta go outside.”
JS: Touch grass.
Justin: Going to the beach, or going on hikes.
Jesse: Going on bike rides.
Justin: And we had a small quarantine bubble of friends that we trusted to come over, or we’d go over there. But other than that, it was a lot of TV…
Jesse: A lot of movies.
JS: Were you still playing music, even if it wasn’t Interrupters stuff, or did you just like put it away?
Jesse: It was always there. Our back room is always set up so we could always go back there and jam, but there was definitely a time…
Justin: There was definitely a three-month period where I didn’t touch a bass. (*all laugh*)
Jesse: Yeah, I was the same with drums.
JS: Is that the longest you’ve ever gone, since you started playing?
Justin: For sure.
JS: Was it interesting working with…I know you’ve worked with Tim (Armstrong) executive producing before but this is the first one where it was listed that Kevin was the producer of (the album). Does that change the dynamic when not only one of the four of you is producing it, but he’s also your brother and your band member? Does that impact the dynamic in the studio or have you been doing it with each other for so long now that you just know how it works?
Justin: Yeah, exactly. We’ve been doing this our whole life. We’ve always looked to Kevin for answers when we have questions about what we’re doing.
Jesse: He’s always kinda been the kind of shadow producer of everything, in a sense.
Justin: Yeah, so Tim gave him full rein…told him to just grab the reins and take off with it.
Jesse: The other thing about the way we work is we try everyone’s ideas, so we could be in the studio and it wouldn’t be like him saying “no, this is how it’s going to be, we have to do it this way.” If we’re working on something and it’s not working, all four of us can be like “well, what if we try this, or what if we try this.” And he’ll say “okay, let’s try it.” There’s no bad ideas until you try it and realize it’s bad, you know? It was very good. And we have such a great relationship and we’re very good at communicating, so there wasn’t any headbutting. It was very fun and very easy.
Justin: And again, doing it on the property, it allowed Aimee the freedom to record vocals whenever she felt emotionally connected enough to a song to sing the vocals.
JS: Especially on an album like this, that’s crucial.
Justin: Yeah! When you have studio time, you know you’ve got to be in there at 5pm and be there til 11pm.
Jesse: We’ve gotta bang out all these songs
Justin: And you’ve got to record these (specific things). That’s almost like a 9 to 5. This way, it was like, if we went back there and she was like “ah I don’t want to sing that right now, let me sing this one.” And also, if she got her second wind at 2am, she could just hop back there and record.
JS: Do you guys live close enough where it’s like “hey, it’s 2am but we’ve got an idea…”
Justin: We call it The Compound. In California technical terms, it’s a multi-family housing property, there’s one driveway, there’s two houses and a garage that we share, and a backyard. They live in the front house and we live here, so we’re right next to each other.
JS: It’s like being on tour while you’re at home!
Justin: I know, but with that being said, when we come home from tour sometimes, we don’t see each other for a whole week. (*all laugh*)
JS: Obviously it’s still early because this album’s not even out yet, but does that inspire you to kinda work that way going forward, now that you know that you can make an album like that in your little garage studio?
Jesse: Yeah I think so.
Justin: I think so, I mean…
Jesse: We haven’t really started thinking about the next one yet, but it is easy to just naturally fall into that. If we have to do a song for something, we can just hop back there and do it. So when we have something (to work on), it’s like “when do you want to work on that?” “I don’t know, tomorrow?” So we just hop back there and do it.
JS: How did the writing process work? Were there times when all four of you were writing together, or do Kevin and Aimee come up with the stem of the song and then you guys work on your rhythm parts? And does that ever change the direction of a song? Like if they start writing and a song has a certain feel, do they give you the freedom to say “hey, we think there’s a different feel that might go better with this song?” Because there are a lot of different feels on this album, and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes, but…
Justin: They would definitely have…it could be anything from the core idea of the song to an entirely fledged out song already, knowing how it should feel and what it should sound like. But, there are a couple songs on this record where they were recorded one way and pretty much done, but then it wasn’t just fitting in with the rest of it when we would get back there. I think specifically “Love Never Dies” had a totally different feel, it was more of a rock/reggae Clash-y song. And it was dope, but it wasn’t fitting in with everything.
Jesse: It didn’t age well.
Justin: It didn’t age well. So when we got back there with the four of us, we said “What do we do with this?” And Kevin said “what if did it more like a roots thing?”
Jesse: Yeah, he said “Jesse, play a one drop” so I played this one drop, and then he said “Justin, play this bass line” (*mimics bassline*). And then he said “okay, watch” and he just started skanking, and then he started singing this melody the way that it is now, and we played that for like four bars and just stopped. We were like “yeah, that’s it! Now we’re on to something!”
Justin: And then we finished it and we were like “dude, we gotta get The Skints on this one.”
Jesse: We built up this track, sent it to The Skints, and they sent us back a whole bunch of stuff that we kept. They’re fantastic.
JS: I was going to ask if all the guests got recorded in studio with you too. Obviously they didn’t if The Skints recorded their own stuff. People haven’t heard the album yet but obviously, Tim’s on a song because Tim’s gonna be on a song. Rhoda from Bodysnatchers, Alex and Greg from Hepcat, obviously Billy Kottage, the fifth Interrupter. Shoutout to Billy Kottage, the pride of Dover, New Hampshire.
(*Justin adjusts camera, revealing Billy Kottage sitting on the couch in the corner!)
Both: He’s right there!
JS: That’s awesome! I don’t think we’ve ever met in person, but Billy and I are both from the State of New Hampshire, so I always think that’s awesome.
Justin: When he comes out here, he pretty much lives with us.
JS: That’s great. There aren’t many of us in New Hampshire, the scene wasn’t very big, so when someone from the Granite State is cool and does cool things, I love it. So shoutout to Billy Kottage. So yeah, did they all record with you?
Jesse: It was all different. The Skints did it on their own in England, Rhoda recorded her vocals on her own at her place back in England.
Justin: (For) Hepcat, we actually went into Tim’s studio for a day.
Jesse: Which was great!
Justin: Greg and Alex came in and it was just one of the most fun days. That’s the thing, we went in to have them record on the song not knowing…Kevin didn’t really know what to have them do. We wanted them on the song, but he didn’t really have the part or anything. But we went in with them and showed them the song, and within like a minute, the two of them are sitting there going…
Both: “ooooh oooh” (*harmonizing*)
Justin: Like writing the parts, figuring it out together, it was so cool to see because they’re literally our favorite ska band.
Jesse: It was a magical session to be a part of. They were sitting there laughing…
Justin: ..having a good time…
Jesse: …singing all the right notes. It was awesome. We did that at Tim’s studio. Tim also did his vocals at his studio. That was later in the process, where things were a little more comfortable, where we could actually travel to a studio and not worry about everything. And then also, we had a guest vocalist on “Alien.” It’s this guy named Arnold, who is a friend of Tim’s and a friend of Brett Gurewitz’s. When we were working on that song, I think it was Tim’s idea, he was like “Arnold’s voice would sound great on this,” and we were like “let’s give it a shot!” So we had Arnold come in and he sang all those background vocals, and he’s got this emotionally delicate approach to his vocals that just lifted that song to another level.
JS: That song is something else…
Jesse: First Interrupters song with no guitar.
JS: Right! That’s actually a thing I wanted to ask about. There’s so many different directions! Obviously you’ve always played on a lot of different influences, but I feel like with this album, you go deeper into the reggae thing, into the 2-Tone thing, and then “Alien” which is unlike anything else in the Interrupters catalog. What made you take the freedom to just kinda go with that. Is that stuff that’s always kinda been in the arsenal but maybe you didn’t want to go too deep on the first few records, but now that everyone’s along for the ride it’s like, “well, let’s push that.”
Jesse: Maybe a little bit of that, but also, it is more that the songs were telling us how we should play them, so to speak. So the way that that song was written, there was never really another way to approach it. That song went through a lot of different versions – not crazy different versions but it was layered up with heavy guitars at one point…
Justin: It was kind of like The Beatles’ “Oh Darling” at one point, where it was like rocking…
Jesse: There were heavier drums on it at one point. It went through a bunch of stages.
Justin: But the emotion wasn’t there. Aimee fought really hard to bring it back to what it should be.
Jesse: What served the song better.
Justin: And that involved one day just pulling it up and being like “take the guitar off, take that off, take that off”…it got down to literally just the drum beat and the string arrangement.
Jesse: Even cutting a whole outro and just being like “no, the song should end right there.”
Justin: And then also with “My Heart,” which is also kind of a different…
Jesse: That “doo-woppy” 50s feel.
Justin: She had already had the melody and was singing it and I was like “well, it’s gonna be in 3, and it’s gonna have this rock feel.” Even if we tried to make it in 4 as a ska song or a reggae song, it just wasn’t working. So the way those songs were written informed the styles. And at this point, we’ve kind of realized that no matter what style it is, if it’s me and Jesse and Kevin playing and Aimee singing, it’s going to sound like The Interrupters. Us just believing in ourselves and pushing it forward that way really helped the process.
JS: When there’s an album I’m really excited about, I try to ignore a lot of the singles and just listen to the album all the way through because, I don’t know, I’m in my 40s and that’s the way we did it when we were kids, right? So I listened to it all the way through and I took notes and next to “My Heart” I wrote “whoa, an Interrupters doo-wop song.” It’s very much an Interrupters song still, but it’s got that sort of 50s diner, doo-wop vibe to it. Which I think is awesome, and it’s cool to see elements like feature in the mix but still be an Interrupters track.
Justin: Thank you!
Jesse: Yeah, initially that was one where we were like “let’s just play like The Ramones would play in 3.” So it was real heavy, but it didn’t serve the song well.
Justin: So dial back a little bit.
JS: I think people are going to dig that song.
Jesse: I think that’s my favorite song on the album.
Justin: Specifically behind the scenes with that song, Aimee had a service dog named Daisy for 13 years, who passed away in 2018. It was like her little girl, and it was devastating when she passed away. She wrote that song about her, and not even just the first time but the first few times I heard it, I couldn’t keep it together. I’d cry every time.
Jesse: Yeah, because when we worked it out in the studio, we just had the choruses, singing “my heart keeps beating, my heart keeps beating…” so that pretty much informed the drum beat just being a heartbeat. And then a couple weeks later when they updated the Dropbox with the verses and said “listen to this,” me and Justin were both sitting right here in our living room with our earbuds on and we’re both just like crying. Like, oh my god this is so emotional, because we all lived with Daisy, she was fantastic. She was a German shepherd/wolf, and we all still miss her a lot. That was a heavy one.
JS: Have you been able to play a lot of this stuff live yet, or are you waiting until the album is out?
Jesse: On the Flogging Molly tour we just did, we were only doing “Anything Was Better” and “In The Mirror,” and then when we dropped “Jailbird” we started doing that. The plan is to play as much of it as possible.
Justin: We tried a few of them at soundcheck on occasion.
Jesse: Yeah, we’d always screw around at soundcheck and be like “do you guys know ‘Kiss The Ground,’ let’s try that”
Justin: Or “Raised By Wolves”
Jesse: But we’re in rehearsals next week for a few days to work on stuff for the European tour, because that’s when we’ve gotta do longer sets, but the plan is to try to learn the whole record.
JS: I think people are going to dig a lot of it. I was just curious about if you’d throw a curveball song like that at people before they’ve heard the album to see what the response is. Because I feel like “In The Mirror” is one of those songs that the first time you hear it, you go “yup, that one’s a classic. That’s going to get the crowd whipped up.” Do you know when you’re writing a song like that that it’s going to be “the one.” Like “She’s Kerosene” was like that. The very first verse when I first heard it, I remember going “well, that’s gonna be a big hit.”
Jesse: When we’re working on it in the studio, I think we’re so lost in the process that we don’t give songs that sort of focus, like “that’s going to be the single, this is going to be the hit.” But there was a point when we were doing “She’s Kerosene” that we had Mr. Brett come in and he was listening to stuff and he when he heard “Kerosene,” he had his little notepad and he was just like “hit.” And we all just looked at each other like “Whoa! Really?”
Justin: We thought there was so much more work to be done with that song and when he gave it that check of approval, we were like “alright, we don’t have to do much more to it.” That was cool. But then also for this record, when there was like 18 or 20 songs, “In The Mirror” was a standout, at least for me. I was like “I think that one is really good.” Then as it dwindled down, it was like “In The Mirror” and “Raised By Wolves” as the top two. They’re different enough, one’s ska, one’s sort of heavy rock, and you’re just like these two are the shining examples of the record and what we’re trying to sound like.
Jesse: And “In The Mirror,” Kevin and Aimee wrote that song ten years ago. That was one that wasn’t written specifically for this record. But when they were doing the inventory for the record, Aimee was like “we should dig this one up, this is a great one.” I remember when we were trying to work that one out in the room as a four-piece, I feel like it was a more difficult one to get away from the demo version, because I’ve been listening to that song for ten years. There is a demo recording of it – it’s not even a demo, it’s a full fledged-out different version of it. And having that ingrained in your brain and trying to get away from it and being like “alright, how would The Interrupters do this,” that was an interesting process. There was definitely a day where I was like “that song’s not going to make the record, we have so many other songs.” (*all laugh*) Obviously, I was wrong, that song rips.
Justin: But it’s wild too, because they wrote it ten years ago. From that time, that’s when they wrote “Easy On You,” “Gave You Everything,” and then “In The Mirror” was in that batch.
Jesse: “Love Never Dies” was in that batch.
Justin: Yup, “Love Never Dies.” I think now if we’re recording, it’s like “hey what else wasfrom that time period? What else did you write then? Anything else we can dig up?” There was some gold.
JS: It’s interesting to hear that it’s from that time period. As I was driving around this morning for work, I listened to the first album and this one back-to-back, because they come out on the same day; the new one comes out on the 8th anniversary of the first one, so I thought it would be cool to listen to them back-to-back. And, I loved the first album when it came out, but it is startling how far you guys have progressed as a band in eight years.
JS: And so to listen to them back-to-back, obviously you can kinda see how ended up here, but at the same time, you’ve progressed so far. So it’s really interesting that that song, in particular, is from that batch.
Jesse: So, one of our little press points about this record and relating it to the previous records is that the first album is kind of like a first date, where you just talk about surface-level things, nothing too crazy. Second album, you start to let them know a little more about you. Third album, you’re kinda getting into the nitty-gritty. Fourth album, all the baggage is out, the drama is revealed, all the secrets are out. That is kind of where we are with this. And talking about the recording of the first record, we were just trying to keep it simple. We weren’t trying to reinvent anything, we were just trying to be a straight-ahead ska-punk band.
Justin: We did like twenty-four instrumentals in three days. Some of them didn’t have any lyrics or anything, we just got the music done. The ones that didn’t have any lyrics done, they just wrote to the instrumentals. There was no going back to redo parts, it was just like “this is it, we’re done.”
Jesse: And keep it simple. Like, for me on drums, it was like “don’t do any crazy fills, just keep it straight, keep it steady.”
Justin: Which is wild, because some of my basslines, I play so many notes! Why did they let me do that?!? (*all laugh*)
JS: Yeah, but they work, and as somebody who wanted to be a bass player when he grew up, I like that they let you play all the notes! …. Thanks for doing this. This was fun. I talked to Kevin and Aimee for I think the first three records, so it’s nice to talk to you guys. It’s been a while!
Jesse: Yeah we’re being let off the leash a little bit. (*all laugh*)
JS: Well and that’s good, you should be. It’s fun that you guys have your own language with each other, and I know that that’s talked about in other places, like the documentary. So it’s perfect that you guys ended up as a rhythm section, and you end up doing this. Is that why you ended up as a rhythm section?
Jesse: Yeah, kinda. It kinda happened naturally. I don’t remember if we talked about it in the movie, but Kevin started out as a drummer. We had a drum set in the house because our dad was a producer and worked with his friends. So there was a drum set always in the house and Kevin gravitated toward that at an early age. But then, one day our dad came home with a guitar and a bass. So Kevin grabbed the guitar, and I was already dicking around on the drums, so then the only thing left over was the bass. So then naturally it was like “well, this is your instrument, this is your instrument…” And then we would just jam as little kids. There’s some video in that documentary but there’s a LOT more video when we were like 7 years old and Kevin is like 9 of us just trying to play like Green Day songs and Blink 182 songs
Justin: Sublime songs.
Jesse: Yeah, Sublime songs! Whatever we were hearing on the radio is what we were trying to play. The crazy thing is that we’ve come full circle and we know a lot of the people we were trying to emulate and we’re lucky enough to call them friends.
Justin: Some are like family.
Jesse: Yeah, some are like family now. It’s been a crazy, crazy life that we don’t take for granted.
Justin: They always say don’t meet your idols but...
Jesse: …we’ve never had a bad experience when we’ve met our idols.
Justin: I couldn’t tell you one person that I had looked up to that I met and they ruined it for me. Everyone’s been amazing.
JS: You know what, I’ve got to say almost the same thing. The amount of people that I’ve gotten to know through doing this for…well, The Interrupters started in 2011 and I started with Dying Scene in 2011. You’re one of the bands that came out right when I was getting started with this whole thing so it’s been a fun sort of parallel, but there’s only a small, small handful of people where you go “wow, that guy’s kind of a dick.” Everybody else has been super cool and super rad and supportive of each other. Especially those people that we grew up listening to in the late 80s and the 90s. It’s a pretty good, supportive group.
Justin: It is, it is. Even when we just started out, to tour with Rancid was amazing, but then to go on and get Rhoda from The Bodysnatchers, we get Horace and Lynval and Terry from The Specials love us. It’s just insane. To have that mutual respect and to get it back is just…yeah…it’s mind-blowing.
Jesse: We did a charity show back in February where we were backing The Specials. I was the drummer of The Specials for a night. We did the whole set, like twelve songs. Justin played piano, Kev played guitar.
Justin: You saw that thing where we played with Tim and Jesse Michaels and did the Op Ivy song?
JS: Yeah, yeah. That was amazing.
Justin: That was the same event. That one song with Jesse was amazing but it overshadowed the fact that we played in The Specials! (*all laugh*)
Jesse: It was just mind-blowing.
JS: Yes! Everyone kinda lost it with the Jesse thing but yeah, that’s awesome. Just awesome.
Jesse: And just being able to sit in a room for a week with Terry and Horace; Lynval got sick so he couldn’t come out, but just to sit there and run the songs with them was mind-blowing.
JS: I’m glad this stuff keeps happening to you, because you certainly deserve it.
If you’re like us, one of the positive things that came out of the Covid shutdown and the way artists had to alter the way that they connected with fans is that it gave us a chance to check out a bunch of new music that we might have slept on previously. Case in point: […]
If you’re like us, one of the positive things that came out of the Covid shutdown and the way artists had to alter the way that they connected with fans is that it gave us a chance to check out a bunch of new music that we might have slept on previously. Case in point: LA Edwards. It was a name I’d certainly heard before, but it wasn’t until an opening appearance on Lucero’s Virtual Block Party in late 2020 that I said “hey, these guys are pretty great!” There was a cool, mellow, Laurel Canyony vibe to the sound, filled with great guitars and even greater harmonies.
Now that the world has reopened and Covid is no longer a thing (lol), the band finally made their way to the Northeast, opening for Lucero on their somewhat abbreviated run late last year. While Lucero are certainly well-known for epic live performances of their own, LA Edwards did a formidable job setting a high bar. The band followed that tour with a western US run with The White Buffalo, and yesterday, they release their latest (and undoubtedly greatest) full-length album, Out Of The Heart Of Darkness. If you missed it, here’s our review. We traded emails with frontman Luke Edwards to talk about the new album, what it’s like touring with a bunch of live heavyweights, how you balance being a full-time musician and owning a wildly successful food company and more! You can listen to the new album below, then keep scrolling to check out our chat!
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): First and foremost, thanks for taking some time to answer some of our questions. You’ve bookended your touring year with runs in support of The White Buffalo and had a few festivals and a bit of an abbreviated run with Lucero in the mix earlier this year. How does 2022 stack up amongst the touring years in your career?
Luke “LA” Edwards: Thank you for having me! It was great to be back out on the road for 22, including our first run overseas to Europe and the Uk. 22 was one of our busier years with about 4.5 months out. We’re feeling good and road ready!
Speaking of The White Buffalo, I’ve been lucky enough to interview Jake a couple times over the years, and he has to be on the shortlist of the more intense and dynamic performers that I’ve ever had the privilege to shoot. Does knowing your playing in support of a powerhouse live act (whether it’s Jake or Lucero or Lucinda Williams, etc) motivate you and the crew because you know you have to bring your A-game every night?
Most definitely! It’s always our goal to serve the audience, and supporting and watching such amazing artists nightly is a master class that we are very thankful for.
Speaking of tour, you were on the road with the amazingly talented Amanda Shires when the world shut down a few years ago. What do you remember about that time, particularly trying to maneuver that first handful of shows as things were closing down? Did you have a lot of other stuff that had to get postponed or canceled the longer that shutdown lasted?
That was definitely a wild ride. I remember we were in the Northwest and the shows kept getting thinner and thinner until we cancelled the run and headed home. A fan in Vancouver wisely stated at our last show, “We’re going to remember this as the time before Covid”….
All musicians are making up for their last 2 years so it’s a good time to be a fan. It’s not the most artist-friendly touring landscape with the high costs and competition of everyone being out making up for lost time.
Okay, let’s switch gears to the new album! Congratulations on Out Of The Heart Of Darkness! I’ve been a fan of your songwriting and your sound for a while now, but I have to say that from the first listen, I think this is your best and most diverse work yet! I have to imagine this was a fun record to make. Songs like “Let It Out” and “Hi Rite Now!” and that bridge/outro on “Surrender” really seem to tap into the live energy of an LA Edwards show. Was that a focus this time out?
Thank you! We’re very proud of the record. I wrote most of it after our Europe tour and was feeling pretty exhausted and hungover in every way possible. Those shows were the biggest of our career and I think that desire to rock the big rooms probably played a subconscious role in the songwriting process.
One of the things that I was most impressed with in finally getting to see the band live on that Lucero run in the Northeast was how much of a killer guitar band you are. It feels like you did let the guitars off the proverbial leash a little more this time out, as it seems like there are some newer and different sounds and textures on this record. Is there a battle between the songwriter part of your brain that wants to serve the song best and provide atmosphere for a song to breathe in, and the guitar player side of your brain that maybe just wants to shred sometimes?
Love that! Yes we do love to play guitar. My brother Jay is the real shredder, I mainly like to play slide since I don’t practice scales and speed drills enough. On the new material Jay is playing the majority of the lead guitar, which allows me to focus a bit more on singing/dancing/falling etc. We steered away from “solos” and went more “lead” style for the guitars, which has always been my favorite kind of playing. I wanted the guitar to come from a more melodic/songwriting approach, similar to George Harrison/David Lindley etc., so I think it allows shredding within the fairway of the song/melody.
There are recurring themes of movement on a lot of your work but particularly on this album. Lots of references to the characters in your music traveling; sometimes they’re wandering, sometimes they’re escaping, or sometimes either returning home or, conversely, not being able to return home and having to move on. Why do you think that these are themes that resonate with you and, by extension, to your listeners?
Well we grew up in a military family so we never really settled down or had a childhood home, so that’s definitely in the DNA. And then add becoming roving minstrels in a traveling band to the mix and you have homesick material covered. I think a lot of people can relate to wanting to find their place.
A friend and frequent mention on the pages of Dying Scene over the years, Dave Hause, has increasingly collaborated with his younger brother Tim over the years and wrote an album called Blood Harmony that, in part, digs into that sort of cosmic sonic connection that siblings seem able to tap into that people without that family relationship can’t always. You’ve certainly played with some talented musicians not named Edwards in your time (shoutout to Alex Vo and Landon Pigg!!), but you and Jay and Jerry seem to have that “thing.” Is that a thing you’ve really explored and, if so, when did you realize that you had that sort of mutual musical language?
We grew up singing at church and listening to good harmony bands around the house, but we were mainly in crappy punk bands through high school. We didn’t really fully dive into the harmonies till our late teens early 20s. Once we did, we realized was uniquely our own and resonated with people on a deep, familial level. Jay is classically trained so he has a lot of fun arranging weird, out of the box 3 part harmonies. Aside from songwriting, it’s my favorite part of the whole deal.
I was surprised to see “The Crow” not listed on the tracklist for Out Of The Heart Of Darkness, in part because I’m a sucker for slide guitar and harmonica. What went into the decision to release that as a standalone single instead?
Well the Crow was actually recorded before “Blessings from Home” at Ten4 studio in Nashville in 2019. We considered putting it on Blessings but it didn’t seem to fit anywhere sonically. It’s a lot closer to the tones of the new record for sure, not really sure why we didn’t put it on there now that you mention it…maybe because it’s a few years older.
You’ve collaborated with the great Ron Blair pretty regularly at this point. On the list of surreal things that have happened in your time in the music industry, where does working with not just a Heartbreaker, but with the guy that Tom Petty himself called “always the best bass player in the room” rank?
We owe so much to Ron. He’s our main mentor and a great sensei. Having him enter the picture is definitely surreal and one of the most meaningful things to happen to us musically. And he’s still the best bass player in the room!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the success of your “day job” as co-founder of Bitchin’ Sauce which – shameless plug – is finally available in my neck of the woods and is really unlike anything else I’ve ever had. If you were able to go back and talk to high school-aged Luke, which do you think he’d be more mindblown by: your success as a touring musician with a handful of albums on his own label imprint under Universal records, or your success as co-founder of an award-winning, vegan specialty food company?
Both are very surprising, but I never thought I’d be in the food biz!
Thanks again for taking the time to answer our long-winded questions. If there’s anything else you’d like Dying Scene readers to know, feel free to do so here! Best of luck with Out Of The Heart Of Darkness, and hopefully we’ll catch you on the road again in the new year!!