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DS Interview: Cory Branan on his epic first studio album in more than five years, “When I Go, I Ghost”

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!

Photo credit: Jamie Harmon – https://www.instagram.com/amuricaworld/

(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…

Thank you!

…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. 

I’ve heard really good things about the new place he built.

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-off for 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.

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DS Interview: Jesse and Justin Bivona on The Interrupters’ new album, “In The Wild”

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…

(*all laugh*)

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!”

(*all laugh*)

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?

Jesse: Never.

Justin: No.

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”?

Jesse: Well…

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.

Both: Yeah!

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?

Both: Yeah!

Justin: For sure.

Jesse: Definitely.

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…”

Both: Yeah!

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…

Both: Yeah!

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 was from 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.

Both: Yeah!

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. 

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DS Interview: River Shook (Sarah Shook and the Disarmers) on their new genre-bending project Mightmare’s debut album, “Cruel Liars”

Remember back at the beginning of the pandemic when we all found ourselves with an overwhelming amount of unexpected free time and we told ourselves that we were going to be productive and work on ourselves and maybe pick up a new hobby? River Shook (who still performs as Sarah professionally and uses they/them pronouns) […]

Remember back at the beginning of the pandemic when we all found ourselves with an overwhelming amount of unexpected free time and we told ourselves that we were going to be productive and work on ourselves and maybe pick up a new hobby? River Shook (who still performs as Sarah professionally and uses they/them pronouns) is one of the small percentage of the population who actually made good on those vows. They had been fresh off yet another busy year of touring with their main project, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, when the world shut down for all intents and purposes. Instead of resting on their laurels or rearranging the pantry 37 times or whatever other mindless pursuits some of us undertook to pass the time, Shook stayed busy writing and recording. But this wasn’t their traditional writing and recording; Sarah Shook and the Disarmers’ most recent full-length, Nightroamer, was released in February of this year on Thirty Tigers but the recording process wrapped right before the world shut down.

Shook has been writing songs for a long time and while most of us are familiar with their work primarily with the Disarmers, there’s always been an “other” pile; songs that were solid and complete and yet didn’t quite fit the Disarmers’ rabble-rousing alt-country mold. A couple of those “other” songs found their way onto Nightroamer, albeit in reworked fashion. “When we went in for our last rehearsal before we went into the studio to record Nightroamer,” Shook explains, “we hammered out arrangements and got them record-ready, and we ended up putting two songs (“I Got This” and “Been Lovin’ You”) on the record that were not intended to be Disarmers songs.”

Initially, Shook’s plan was to turn some more of the “other” tracks into more polished songs. As Shook tells it, that plan changed…and for the better. “I had a few in the works and at some point, I realized that if I changed a couple things and improved my methods in a few different ways, I could hypothetically make an entire album.” In addition to their normal role as guitar player and vocalist, Shook took to programming drums and beats and samples on their new material, with the newfound goal of keeping the material for themselves. “I sort of changed my perspective as far as being a little bit more serious and treating it more like a job instead of just something to pass the time,” Shook explains. “I have a tendency to hyperfocus, so I would wake up in the morning, make coffee, and start working, start building tracks. One of the things that I had the most fun with on that project is how many layers there are on every song. And being able to orchestrate that myself and not being accountable to anyone else, it was just me and my brain and our relationship working together to make this record happen.”

The project quickly picked up steam as Shook realized the extent of their home recording capabilities. “Realizing that (recording quality-sounding audio from their North Carolina home) was an option and knowing that I had maybe $1200 for my entire budget for the album,” Shook expounds, “I told myself that if I did absolutely everything that I could possibly do on my own, and then use all of that money to hire Ian Schreier to mix it and Brent Lambert from Kitchen Mastering to master it.” The latter point meant reuniting with the team that put the finishing touches on the Disarmers’ first two studio albums, Sidelong and Years. It was sort of an ‘if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it’ decision, and one that they were empowered to make completely on their own. “One of the things that I love most about (this project) is that I’m not accountable to anybody. It’s all me. On one hand, it’s very liberating, and on the other hand, it’s intense, because I had to start a small business, and all of this stuff is new for me.”

The end result of those writing sessions was Mightmare. It’s a new project; stylistically, lyrically, all of the above. It’s elicited labels like “dark pop” or “sludge rock” or “brooding rock” and it’s most definitely loosely defined as ‘indie rock’ and it’s definitely a radical stylistic departure from the Disarmers and especially from River’s prior project, Sarah Shook and the Devil. And so when it came time to find a label to release the Mightmare project on, it meant looking outside the normal alt-country channels. “Kill Rock Stars was my number-one pick,” states Shook rather emphatically. If you’re going to release an indie rock album, there probably aren’t many better options, as the iconic has been home to some iconic records by the likes of Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney and The Decemberists and Mary Lou Lord.

Oh, and of course Elliott Smith, Shook’s own personal introduction to the label. “I was maybe seventeen or eighteen and a coworker at the Wegmans in Geneva, New York loaned me an Elliott Smith CD, and this was, mind you, probably the fourth or fifth CD I ever listened to that wasn’t Christian music,” she notes. Shook’s strict religious upbringing has been covered in depth in other sources (like our chat earlier this year surrounding the release of Nightroamer – check it out here), but suffice it to say that Smith’s voice and lyrics and the label’s logo served as keystone moments in the building of what became their musical foundation. “I remember seeing the Kill Rock Stars logo on the CD or on the back jacket, and that’s a name that just sticks with you. When I gave the CD back to my friend, I thanked him profusely and said “if you have any more material from this person…this is what I want to be listening to!’.”

After some initial back-and-forth, Kill Rock Stars was on board, and the album, entitled Cruel Liars, had a release date of October 14th. Next came the task of booking some record release shows. There’s one small caveat that should be fairly apparent: “I talked to my booking agent Chris Rusk, and I was just like “it’s coming out on October 14th, and we need to do like a two-week tour around it,” and Chris was like “who’s ‘we’…you don’t have a band?!?” It’s here that we remind you that save for a few bass tracks recorded by Aaron Oliva, Shook performed and recorded all of the music on Cruel Liars on their own…meaning there wasn’t exactly a “band” to take on the road. They continue: “I was like “you worry about booking the tour, I’ll worry about putting the band together. I’ve never let you down, I will have something, it’ll be awesome, I’ll make you proud!

The rounding out of the band that became Mightmare was done during small breaks between Disarmers tour runs. Real small breaks. The first call wasn’t exactly a long-distance one; it was to none other than newer Disarmers guitar player Blake Tallent. Shook’s longtime North Carolina scene veteran friend Ash Lopez joined on bass, and after auditioning some less-than-ideal candidates for drummer, along came Ethan Standard, who was previously unknown to Shook but had played with Tallent in previous projects from time to time. What followed was a crash-course in all things Mightmare as the band prepared to head out on a two-week tour that was not only its first headlining tour, but its first-ever shows. 

Basically, the Disarmers got home from a tour and we had four days of back-to-back rehearsals with Mightmare, and then Mightmare went out for two weeks,” explains Shook. “The four days that we all had rehearsing together, we made minute changes to the arrangements, took crazy notes, and committed stuff to memory. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the anticipation and excitement that I had playing that first Mightmare show…maybe that’s because I’m sober and more present.” Shook, as followers of theirs will know, got sober a few months before the pandemic kicked off, and has been an outspoken advocate of mental health resources like Open Path Collective, in addition to being a tireless champion of LGBTQIA+ causes. While we’ve used genre labels like “indie rock” and “alt-country” and “dark pop” to categorize both Sarah Shook and the Disarmers and Mightmare throughout the course of this story, we’ve got to say that being a queer, non-binary, sober singer/songwriter and champion of mental health causes is about as “punk rock” as it gets.

You can check out Mightmare’s debut, Cruel Liars, below, and keep scrolling to read our full Q&A!


(The following Q&A has been condensed for clarity and content purposes.)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So thanks for chatting again! I was looking through my list a little bit ago, and it’s been roughly ten years that I’ve been doing artist interviews, and I think in the 160 or so that I’ve done (editor’s note: the actual number is 188. Yikes.) I think there is only one other time where I’ve interviewed the same person twice in the same calendar year (*both laugh*). And never for two different projects. (Editor’s note: bonus points awarded if you can guess who the other one was. It was in 2016, but that’s all you get for a hint.) So this is cool! We talked at the beginning of the year for the most recent Sarah Shook and the Disarmers album, and now we have Mightmare. I feel like I think I knew at the time that this was coming, but now that people everywhere have gotten to hear it, this is a really cool and different record!

River Shook: Thank you!

And so I have to assume that that was the goal; that stuff that ended up as Mightmare couldn’t be turned into Sarah Shook and the Disarmers songs, right?

Not necessarily. When we went in for our last rehearsal before we went into the studio to record Nightroamer, I think there were twelve songs that we had worked up, essentially. We had hammered out the arrangements for (them) and got them record-ready. We ended up putting two songs on the record that were not intended to be Disarmers songs – intended is not the right word, but they were two songs that kind of just went into the “other” pile, versus songs that are very clearly Disarmers. Those were “I Got This” and “Been Lovin’ You.” It’s interesting; I feel like I’m in this spot where writing songs that aren’t Disarmers songs is nothing new per se, but now that I have this outlet, I’m in a position where I’m learning to sort of assign songs to one project or the other. Which is interesting. 

Are there other songs that became Disarmers songs over the years that didn’t necessarily start out as Disarmers songs but that you had to sort of shoehorn into the Disarmers mold? Because I feel like one of the fun things about Mightmare is that you can totally forgo any sort of semblance of a mold, really. You’re not pigeonholed into a style because it’s a brand new thing entirely. 

The only song that I would say really fits into that category would be “Been Lovin’ You” and possibly “I Got This” but I guess that’s just an indication that while I was writing all of these songs that to me were very clearly falling under the Disarmers umbrella, I was also writing a ton of other songs that in the pre-Mightmare days, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with. But if I wrote a song that I felt was worth saving and worth hanging on to but that wasn’t a good fit for the Disarmers necessarily, I’d make a pretty rudimentary demo of it on my MacBook with Garageband and sort of catalog it that way in case I wanted to come back and reference it, or in case I wanted to try to make it fit within the Disarmers context. But I feel like there’s always been enough material being written to satisfy both projects, so at this point in time, it’s kind of like full circle and I have two outlets and everything has a place!

Do you write differently for them? Or have you started to write differently for them? What was your normal Disarmers writing process? Was it the sort of standard you and an acoustic guitar and see where it goes from there? 

No, I’ve never been a disciplined writer, and any time that I have taken up a pen and paper and an instrument with the intention of writing a song, nothing good ever comes out of it. (*both laugh*) Nothing worth keeping anyway. (*both laugh*)

That’s interesting!

Yeah, I don’t ever have, like, an agenda or a plan when I write a song. I’m kind of just going about my day and I have to be in the right place at the right time. Typically I have to be alone, although since we started touring heavily a few years back (before Covid) I can sort of get songs going even if there are other people around, I just have a different process. But yeah, I go about my day and if the stars align and I’m able to, I sit down with a notebook and a pen and a guitar and typically I’m done with a song within like thirty minutes. There might be some light touching up or changing one or two words, but it’s pretty much the whole thing all at once and it’s the lyrics, the melody, the chord progression and a loose arrangement, and that is what I either take to the Disarmers to start working collaboratively at that point. Everyone has a say and we work out “well let’s do this for the nitro or the outro, or let’s put the solo here instead of here…” All of that stuff is decided together. In Mightmare, I have sort of unlimited time to get all of that stuff together. It’s a different process in terms of the actual logistics of it; I don’t have to go anywhere, I just sit on my couch and do everything myself. 

The Mightmare stuff sort of started, if I have read correctly from other places, during Covid, right? Because Nightroamer was essentially finished right before the world shut down. So is Mightmare all stuff that came after you were done writing Nightroamer?

 Not necessarily. I had a lot of demos just kind of sitting around and when I actually started making the album, that isn’t even what I thought I was doing at the time. My plan was to sit down and make more polished versions of one or two of the demos I had to make them a little more in the neighborhood of what I was looking for. I had a few in the works and at some point, I realized that if I changed a couple things and improved my methods in a few different ways, I could hypothetically make an entire album. And again, this was in the Covid isolation at the beginning of the pandemic, so realizing that that was an option and knowing that I had maybe $1200 for my entire budget for the album – because I knew I was going to be out of work indefinitely – I told myself that if I did absolutely everything that I could possibly do on my own, and then use all of that money to hire Ian Schreier to mix it and Brent Lambert from Kitchen Mastering to master it…those were the guys that worked on Sidelong and on Years, and I had wanted to work with both of them again on Nightroamer, and it just kind of happened that Pete Anderson was interested (in the latter project) and this was kind of my way to say “I kinda want to get back to this other format, because I feel like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And I’m really happy with the work that these people do, so it was cool to be able to make that decision for myself, too. One of the things that I love most about Mightmare is that I’m not accountable to anybody. It’s all me. On one hand, it’s very liberating, and on the other hand, it’s intense, because I had to start a small business, and all of this stuff is new for me. 

That’s daunting, isn’t it. Because if it sinks or swims…but ESPECIALLY if it sinks…that’s all on you, right?

Yeah! Exactly. And it’s really hard, too, because I feel like most creative people really don’t have a business mindset, we don’t have a capitalist mindset. We’re not like “oh, I have to write this song so it appeals to the most people so I can make the most money.” That’s not what you’re thinking when you’re writing a song. You’re thinking “I need to express myself to kind of A) get something off my chest and B) hopefully be able to look at what I’ve written and be objective about my own situation. There’s so much more meaning in that than in making a quick buck.

Oh but there certainly are people who are in the business for those reasons and who do write music for commercial appeal…not that that music usually appeals to me.

Yeah! And their cars are much nicer than my car too! (*both laugh*)

How long into the process of realizing that you could record not just demos but essentially full songs did you realize that it was going to be a full record right out of the gate?

Once I had the realization that I could tweak a few things and make something that was a quality worthy of being a record, that instantly became the goal. I made the necessary adjustments; I sort of changed my perspective as far as being a little bit more serious and treating it more like a job instead of just something to pass the time, I have a tendency to hyperfocus, so I would wake up in the morning, make coffee, and start working, start building tracks. One of the things that I had the most fun with on that project is how many layers there are on every song. There are SO MANY LAYERS! And being able to orchestrate that myself and not being accountable to anyone else, it was just me and my brain and our relationship working together to make this record happen. It was snap decision after snap decision, and by the time I was done with it; by the time it was ready to take in to get mixed and mastered, I really thought it could actually be something. Kill Rock Stars was my number-one pick. My manager was talking to them but things weren’t really going anywhere. There were a couple other labels that expressed interest that I just didn’t feel were very good fits for the project. And then, at some point, Kill Rock Stars came back and they were like “hey, we know this is done, but if you can wait til next year to put this out, we can make it work.” 

I was going to ask how the Kill Rock Stars thing came about, because as a child of the 90s, Kill Rock Stars was HUGE obviously. So many legendary bands and legendary albums recorded like all of their work on that label, so I had wanted to hear it anyway obviously, but when I heard that Kill Rock Stars was involved, I went “ooh! This is going to be different (than Disarmers music).” 

Yeah! Absolutely! They provided the opportunity to release it the same year, but it wouldn’t have made as much sense to release it with only a couple months of lead time. It needed to have basically a year of preparation to get various ducks into various rows. 

Do you remember the first Kill Rock Stars album you had? I was looking back at their discography knowing that this interview was coming up and I was trying to remember where they first came onto my radar, and I think it was Bikini Kill. I know I have like every Sleater-Kinney album too, but I think the first was Bikini Kill. Do you remember what yours was?

Oh yeah it was Elliott Smith! 

I’m embarrassed to say but I got into Elliott Smith weirdly late. I don’t know how I sort of missed him when he was, uh, alive…I was definitely more Bikini Kill, Hovercraft, Mary Lou Lord…

I think I was also introduced to him posthumously. I was maybe 17 or 18 and a coworker at the Wegmans in Geneva, New York, he loaned me an Elliott Smith CD, and this was, mind you, probably like the fourth or the fifth CD I ever listened to that wasn’t Christian music, so I was very early into discovering what for everyone else was normal music. But I remember seeing the Kill Rock Stars logo on the CD or on the back jacket, and that’s a name that just sticks with you. When I gave the CD back to my friend, I thanked him profusely and said “if you have any more material from this person…this is what I want to be listening to!” I remember him giving me I think two burned CDs that had a big giant mix of Elliott’s songs, and with that, he gave me an actual newspaper clipping that covered his death, which I actually have to this day. Twenty years later or whatever I still have that. That was a very keystone moment for me. 

We have referenced CDs and newspapers in the last few minutes…that’s a sign of dating ourselves. (*both laugh*)

I prefer to think of it as nostalgia! (*both laugh*)

Fair enough! Getting back to the music a little bit, did you have different influences, not so much lyrically but sonically, when it came to writing the material that would end up on the Mightmare project, especially with all of the layering that you were talking about? Was that influenced by things you’d been listening to or was that more a product of just experimenting and seeing what you could do?

I really don’t have influences. From the press that I’ve seen likening Mightmare to other artists or bands or projects, I honestly haven’t recognized any of them.

That’s awesome, actually.

Yeah, I know that it’s very common – pretty much industry standard – to sort of have a reference list. I’ve made records in the past where the producer has asked for a list of reference songs and I’m just like “there is no reference! There’s no reference, this is its own thing entirely!” I don’t want it to sound like us. Especially with the Disarmers having their own distinct sound, we don’t need to try to sound like anybody else! (*both laugh*) I feel like Mightmare has that as well. It has a very distinct personality, and everything is done in service to the song. Every decision that I made for every single track, and every tiny, minute little portion of a melody line or a sample…all of that, the only goal is to make the best decision for what is going to make the song shine the most, for lack of a better way to say that. Everything is to illuminate and emphasize the lyrics and kind of bastion them.

Especially the layering thing…and thinking bigger picture than just your role as a guitar player or a vocalist, but when it came to adding all of those layers and textures and instrumentation yourself, does that stuff get addictive for a while, for lack of a better phrase? Once you learn all of the little tricks that you can do and things that you can add, does that become an addictive thing and make you think “ooh, what else can I do next?!?”

Absolutely!

Because I feel like it was a really fun record to make in that regard, especially to make by yourself. 

Yeah, absolutely. I think there were one or two songs I had to go back through and choose one or two tracks to omit, even though it fit with what was going on, it was crowding this other more important melody line, or it needed to be removed to give this other part more room to do its own thing. Yeah, if I could make my living sitting in my living room for eight hours a day and never have to talk to another human…(*both laugh*)…I would probably be okay with that!!

So how did the experience go with playing that stuff live. Because once you formulated the album, did you have “the band” in mind, or did you have to go through a list of people to fill out the sound, and then, how did that stuff to you translate into the live show? Getting all of those sounds to come out of a rock band…how did that process go?

Well let me tell you, bud…(*both laugh*)…when I started putting this together and it became clear that I was going to sign with Kill Rock Stars, I talked to my booking agent Chris Rusk, and I was just like “it’s coming out on October 14th, and we need to do like a two-week tour around it,” and Chris was like “who’s ‘we’…you don’t have a band?!? (*both laugh*) What exactly is the lineup? Is it you and one other person with laptops and a light show?”

Yeah, you could totally envision that. I could see that!

Yeah, but that was never what I had my heart set on. I was like “dude, it’s supposed to be indie rock, and it’s supposed to be even more indie rock than the album sounds, and the only reason the album sounds the way it does is that I had to program beats instead of using a live drummer. Otherwise it would have been a totally different animal.” I was like “you worry about booking the tour, I’ll worry about putting the band together. I’ve never let you down, I will have something, it’ll be awesome, I’ll make you proud.” 

That is awesome. Talk about punk rock, by the way. (*both laugh*)

And mind you, the Disarmers are incessantly touring this entire time, so I have these tiny, tiny little windows at home where I’m scrambling to find players and trying to audition people. There was one such window where I held some auditions at a local studio, and I had one drummer who was really just kind of weird and talking about God and church a lot. I think he was just trying to get me to be like “hey I’m queer, and if that’s not a good fit for you that’s fine. I’m non-binary, I do a lot of work in the LGBTQ community as far as activism goes,” and as soon as I said that, he was like “yeah, I don’t think this is going to be a good fit.” That was my first time being blatantly discriminated against (*laughs*) but it’s not going to be something that holds me down. I know it’s not like I’m doing anything wrong. But it was just something else in the pile of dead ends that lead up to Mightmare as the band that it is now. The Disarmers were actually on tour with a new-to-us guitarist, Black Tallent, and we’d been out a couple times and I remember talking to the Disarmers drummer Jack Foster and I was just like “dude, I think I’m going to ask Blake if he wants to be Mightmare’s guitar player and I’m so nervous.” He was like “why are you nervous, he’s going to say yes!” And I said “I don’t know why I’m nervous…maybe I’m nervous because he IS going to say yes!” And so I asked him and he said yes and he became the first official member.

Nervous because if he said yes, then it’s like a real official “thing”?

Yes! Yeah! Like, “now I’ve gone and done it!” And then the one good result of the auditions is that my friend Ash Lopez who I’ve known for years and we’ve run in the same circles here in the Carrboro/Chapel Hill area, he auditioned on bass, and I sent him the music and asked him to learn three songs and he showed up and we played the three songs and I was like “do you want to go over any of that again?” and he was like “do you want to go over anything else, I learned everything.” I was like “well, shit, cool!” And then the final audition was Ethan Standard, who I had never met and never played with, but he was a friend of Blake’s and Blake has worked with him on various musical projects. So, basically, the Disarmers got home from a tour, and we had four days of back-to-back rehearsals with Mightmare, and then Mightmare went out for two weeks, and then the Disarmers immediately went out for two weeks. I just got home from all that. We had these four rehearsals and because the Disarmers had been on the road so relentlessly, Blake and I had maybe one or two practices together, and there’s only so much you can do with two guitars and no drums or bass. We accomplished what we could in that respect. Then the four days that we all had rehearsing together, we made minute changes to the arrangements, took crazy notes and committed stuff to memory. And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt the anticipation and excitement that I had playing that first Mightmare show. I’ve never felt that with another band. And maybe that’s because I’m sober and more present…

I was just going to ask that!

Yeah! Sarah Shook and the Devil was an “I want to get drunk with my friends at a bar and get paid in beer” band. The Disarmers, I kinda got dragged into kicking and screaming. I was afraid of commercial success, I didn’t want any of that stuff. With Mightmare, I get to choose my own idea of success, which is not money. As long as I have enough to pay the bills and pay the people that work for me, Mightmare is what I think I referred to in another interview as my little rebellion from the Disarmers. And that tour was really, really special, and really fucking empowering, especially to go on a two-week run headlining, with no tour history, playing some pretty significant venues. Like, Empty Bottle is an institution. There were definitely some Disarmers fans there that were like “hey, I like this too!” And then there were some new faces who only know us as Mightmare, they don’t even know the Disarmers exist. 

That’s pretty amazing at this stage of a project. 

Yeah! The whole thing just feels like this continuing roller coaster of discovery and new things, and it’s a pretty great feeling. 

Does playing that stuff live influence how you may write going forward as a band, and knowing what the band can do, and do you think that for Mightmare things, you’ll still program things or do you think that it’ll turn into a full band recording thing? Or is that giving away too many secrets about what’s coming down the road? (*both laugh*)

I wish I could tell you. I will say that about a week into the Mightmare tour, I was already like “we have to record this. We have to at least run it through a board and mix it down later. We have to figure out how to capture this. Or, we just have to go into the studio for four days and cut Cruel Liars as it was meant to be.” But I’m not totally sure. I feel like moving forward, Mightmare is a band now, it’s not just me. Much as I do all the songwriting for the Disarmers, I’d probably do all the songwriting for Mightmare and then get into collaborating as the other instruments go. If that’s the case, there might be a point in the not-too-distant future where I have the Disarmers and Mightmare and those bands are live and recording as groups and I still need to do my own little thing over here.

A third project…why not?! (*both laugh*) I’m so used to seeing you in Disarmers mode playing full-body Guild or Loar guitars, but in Mightmare, did I see you playing a weird little Harmony?

Oh yeah! It’s like a 1980s Korean Harmony Rebel. I found it on Craigslist a couple years ago, and this guy was selling it for like 300 bucks, which is nothing! Somebody on this past run was just telling me that during the pandemic guitar nerds went crazy for 1980s Rebels. I don’t know why, but I love that guitar. And yeah, for Disarmers tours, I have two Loar guitars that I take out and for Mightmare I have smaller-body guitars that I can wear hire and sort of closer to my body. Another unexpected thing about Mightmare is I basically had four days to completely change the pedal setup I was using, and also every single song, every single chord is a barre chord in Mightmare. I was having a lot of pain in my hands, because in the Disarmers, there may be like one every couple songs, but it’s not an every single chord of every single song situation. So there are a lot of things that I had to relearn and tweak and figure out how to do better, and having smaller guitars that I can wear higher is a lot easier on my wrist and my hands. 

And it looks like an indie rock band! Like, seeing you with those smaller body guitars at first was jarring because you get so used to the big hollow bodies, but the “regular” and weird guitar was like “oh, this really is a totally different band!” 

Yup, lean and mean! 

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DS Photo Gallery: Frank Turner and Kayleigh Goldsworthy, Crossroads, Garwood NJ (6/20/22)

The hardest working man in punk rock, Frank Turner has been no stranger to the pages of Dying Scene for more than a dozen years now. We last touched base a couple of months ago to chat about his latest album, FTHC – it was Episode 53 of our (*both laugh*): The Dying Scene Quarantine […]

The hardest working man in punk rock, Frank Turner has been no stranger to the pages of Dying Scene for more than a dozen years now. We last touched base a couple of months ago to chat about his latest album, FTHC – it was Episode 53 of our (*both laugh*): The Dying Scene Quarantine Chat Show podcast, in case you were curious. When the tape stopped rolling, Turner let yours truly in on a little secret; he was planning on announcing a Summer US Tour that would find him covering all 50 States in the span of just 50 days. Like most people he told the idea to, I agreed that it sounded absolutely nuts, Covid-19 pandemic or no.

But here we are! The tour kicked off in the great state of New Hampshire on June 13th. Our pal Ray was at show #11 at Crossroads in Garwood, New Jersey. It was a solo acoustic show that came immediately after show #10, which took place in Brooklyn earlier the same day. See what we mean about hardest working man in punk rock? Crossroads is one of my all-time favorite places to see a show (well worth the five-hour drive from the Boston suburbs), and it’s shows like this that demonstrate why. Check out more of Ray’s work on Instagram.

Anyway, this show featured an opening set by none other than Kayleigh Goldsworthy, the immeasurably talented multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter who most recently hails from Philadelphia and just put out a solo record of her own, Learning To Be Happy, back in May.

Check out Ray’s dynamite photos below, and stay tuned for more coverage from the ’50 States In 50 Days’ tour coming soon!

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DS Photo Gallery: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, The Bronx, Pet Needs in Nashville, TN 7.5.22

I have a confession to make. Although I am greatly ashamed, and I’m probably going to be shunned by all of the Dying Scene faithful, I must admit that this was my first time seeing Frank Turner. I know, I know, the guy tours nonstop and frequents Nashville and the surrounding cities. Not to mention […]

I have a confession to make. Although I am greatly ashamed, and I’m probably going to be shunned by all of the Dying Scene faithful, I must admit that this was my first time seeing Frank Turner. I know, I know, the guy tours nonstop and frequents Nashville and the surrounding cities. Not to mention that I have been knowingly committing punk rock sacrilege by not having attended at least once, but, excuses aside, I finally made it. And man did it live up to all the hype.

Pet Needs, traveling from across the pond to the US for the first time, was a phenomenal opener. The Bronx reminded me why they might very well be my favorite live band. And Frank Turner was, well… Frank Turner. The dude was a true professional and was as classy and entertaining as I had heard.

Like I said, Pet Needs was enjoying their first trip to the states, and as soon as they started their set, they made me a fan. They’ve got some catchy tunes, most notably ‘Tracey Emin’s Bed’ and ‘Punk Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Up for Sale’, and guitarist George Marriott can down-right shred. In a way, they reminded me of some of the early English punk acts that made their way over to the states: the Buzzcocks, The Clash, etc. After seeing them live, I could not have thought of a better opener for the king himself.

I’ve seen The Bronx a number of times and my love for them grows with every performance. These guys are about as professional as it gets and they throw one hell of a party. What made their set even more exciting for me was when I realized former Offspring and current Against Me drummer Adam ‘Atom’ Willard was behind the kit tearing things up, all with an ear-to-ear grin for the set’s entirety.

Seeing my favorite drummer absolutely kill it was just icing on the cake. Seeing the Bronx is always a treat, but this most recent show was long overdue.

There’s not a whole lot that I could write here that would be new to anybody reading this. This was Frank Turner‘s 26th show in the last 26 days (on the road to 50 shows in 50 days – editors note: you can see our coverage of the New Jersey show here and listen to our interview with Frank from just before tour was announced here) and show number 2653.

I haven’t been at this whole concert photography thing for too long, but I’m gonna go ahead and label Frank and the rest of The Sleeping Souls as the most photogenic group in punk. It was hard to get a bad picture of these guys, and that’s saying something for a guy who takes photos that are normally 90% complete shit. Thanks to these dudes, this was the most fun I’ve had watching a show in a long time

Down below is the full gallery from all three bands. Had a lot of fun with this one and it would be much appreciated if you took the time to check these out. Until next time, Cheers!

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DS Record Radar: This Week in Punk Vinyl (The Real McKenzies, Cock Sparrer, SACK… PLUS Black Friday Vinyl Deals)

Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl. In addition to new releases and reissues, this week we’ll also be highlighting some Black Friday sales […]

Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl. In addition to new releases and reissues, this week we’ll also be highlighting some Black Friday sales on vinyl records that may interest you. So kick off your shoes, pull up a chair, crack open a cold one, and break out those wallets, because it’s go time. Let’s get into it!

British punks Grade 2 have a new self-titled album on the way. The record produced by Rancid‘s Tim Amstrong is due out in February 2023 on Hellcat Records. Check out their new single “Under the Streetlight” below, and go here for links to where all the different color variants of the LP can be purchased.

If you read our latest Ten Underrated Punk Bands That Should Be On Your Radar column, you know who SACK is. If you didn’t read it (fuck you, why didn’t you read it? I worked really hard on that!) SACK is fronted by Kody Templeman (Teenage Bottlerocket, Lillingtons, etc.). Their new record Ripper! was released on CD earlier this year, and is now finally available on vinyl thanks to the friendly people at Red Scare. Pre-order this beast here.

Also from Red Scare (in case you missed our story about it earlier this week): A first-time vinyl release of Sludgeworth‘s Losers of the Year. For those who aren’t in the know, this was a short lived project of Screeching Weasel‘s Dan Vapid that also featured his SW bandmate Brian Vermin on drums. This album was originally released on CD in 1995 through Lookout! Records, and old school pop-punk aficionados have been clamoring for a vinyl reissue for a long time. The wait is over! Head over to Red Scare’s webstore to grab your copy.

Punk supergroup Fake Names (ft. members of Bad Religion, Refused, Fugazi, etc.) have announced their new album Expendables will be released on March 3rd, 2023 through Epitaph Records. Check out the first single “Delete Myself” below, and pre-order the record here (yellow vinyl, US) or here (“black & white galaxy” vinyl, EU).

Today marks the release of Celtic punk veterans The Real McKenzies new covers album Songs of the Highlands, Songs of the Sea. Fat Wreck Chords is sold out of colored vinyl, but you can still get it on black wax from their webstore. For those outside of the states, the record is available here (CA), here (EU), and here (AUS).

And because you can never have enough Fat Wreck Chords in your life, here’s another new release from Fat! NOFX frontman Fat Mike has teamed up with Get Dead‘s Sam King on a new project called Codefendants. Check out the band’s new single below and order their 10″ split with Get Dead from Fat Wreck’s webstore.

A few Record Radars ago, we let you that the Transplants‘ self-titled debut album was getting a 20th Anniversary reissue. Well, those sold out really fucking quick so Hellcat Records has announced some additional, retailer-exclusive color variants. 1-2-3-4! Go Records and Smartpunk each have their own unique variants here in the US, and Banquet Records has an EU exclusive “cool blue” color variant.

Pirates Press Records is reissuing all seven Cock Sparrer LPs in honor of the band’s 50th Anniversary. You can get them individually for 20 bucks each, or as a set for $125 (that’s a savings of 15 dollars, folks!). No pretty colors here, just good ol’ black wax.

Just in time for the holiday season, Chris Farren‘s Like a Gift from God or Whatever is back in print on neon green colored vinyl. Head over to Asian Man Recordswebstore and get a piece of this yuletide wax 🎄

Fraser from the Murderburgers is a busy guy! In addition to his current band Wrong Life (featured in Dying Scene’s Ten Underrated Punk Bands You Need To Check Out Right Now column) he has now announced another project called Absolute Melt. Check out the single “2am (The Face Changes Shape)” below, and go here to pre-order their upcoming 10″ EP. All profits from physical and digital sales will go to Scottish Women’s Aid, who help women, children and young people in Scotland affected by domestic abuse.

Black Friday Sales

The first Black Friday sale we’ll be highlighting comes to us from the purveyors of pop-punk at Mom’s Basement Records. For one day only, everything on their webstore (including that awesome distro section with The Windowsill‘s album that I just gave a 5-Star review 😉) will be 30% off! Stay tuned to the label’s social profiles for more info. This is the sale of the year as far as I’m concerned.

Merchbar’s entire store is perpetually “on sale”, but their Black Friday Preview sale sees stuff marked down a bit more than usual. The sale has already started, and considering it ends in three days, I assume they’ll be having a proper BF sale later in the week. If you’re just looking for punk records and don’t want to waste precious time searching, you can find most of them here. Some highlights include the RamonesRocket to Russia ($17.99), NOFX‘s Pump Up the Valuum ($15.99), and Operation Ivy‘s Energy ($15.99).

If you’re looking for some gifts for the rude boy (or girl) in your life, Jump Up Records has you covered. They’re not having a sale per se, but they do have some awesome new shit on their webstore for Black Friday, including brand new reissues of some 90’s Moon Ska LPs, alongside a bunch of 7″s, CDs, and cassettes. Happy skalidays! 🎅

Everyone’s favorite indie record store Walmart is having a sale of their own. All vinyl records are $15 in-store at all Walmart locations (exclusives are discounted on their website as well). I’ve seen plenty of pearl-clutching going on about this sale, but I don’t give a fuck 😊 There are some good deals to be had here. I got The Clash‘s 3xLP Combat Rock + The People’s Hall for $15. There were a ton of WM’s new exclusive pressings of Green Day‘s American Idiot and International Superhits at my local store as well. There’s an ample supply of soundtracks and Luke Combs records, too, if you’re into that kinda thing. Sale ends Sunday, November 20th.

And of course, Wally World’s red competitor Tarshay has a sale, too. Starting Sunday, November 20th, all records (and movies, CDs, misc. other media) will be Buy 2, Get 1 Free. Is that cheaper than Walmart? I don’t know, I’m too lazy to do that math (probably not though). This sale will be online and in store, and there’s no limit on how many records you can buy. So if you really want all 375 copies of the new Adele album your local Target has in stock, load up that god damn cart!

Last but not least, we have Record Store Day Black Friday. Again, not much in the way of deals here, but there are some exclusive releases that may interest you. In addition to the 10th Anniversary reissue of Masked Intruder‘s debut LP we highlighted last week, you may also be interested in Goldfinger‘s Hello Destiny (reissued in honor of its 15th Anniversary), and a new Joe Strummer live acoustic album Live at Music Millennium. The only place you can (potentially) get these and all the other RSBF releases is your local record store on Black Friday (November 25th).

And that’s all, folks! Another Record Radar in the books. As always, thank you for tuning in. If there’s anything we missed (highly likely), or if you want to let everyone know about a new/upcoming vinyl release you’re excited about, leave us a comment below (or send us a message on Facebook or Instagram), and we’ll look into it. Enjoy your weekend, and don’t blow too much money on spinny discs. Please note: the Record Radar will be closed next week in observance of Thanksgiving. Have a safe and happy holiday, friends!

*Wanna catch up on all of our Record Radar posts? Type “Record Radar” in the search bar at the top of the page!

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DS Show Review and Photo Gallery: Punk Rock Tacos: A DIY 4th on the 3rd (Chicago, IL)

Story and Photos by Meredith Goldberg Noah Corona just needed to find a place to eat within a block or two of his home in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park, IL. It was the first day of the Covid lockdown. Lacking groceries and concerned that driving to get food might lead to him being […]

Story and Photos by Meredith Goldberg

Noah Corona just needed to find a place to eat within a block or two of his home in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park, IL. It was the first day of the Covid lockdown. Lacking groceries and concerned that driving to get food might lead to him being arrested, he walked around the corner from his home and came upon Cemitas Poblanas. The restaurant offered a $9.00 burrito meal, so it instantly became Corona’s daily spot during the pandemic. It also led to friendships with the staff and owners, “Mauro and Jennifer, a couple who had come from NYC in November ‘19 to start their new business. They are both originally from Puebla, Mexico, and spent 18 years in NYC, and worked in restaurants for a lot of that time,” says Corona (whose surname surely caused a few of his friends to tease him in 2020).

Cemitas Poblanas also has a small stage, which planted the seeds in Corona’s mind, of an idea he would work to fruition over the following year. Thus, was born “Punk Rock Tacos,” a monthly Friday nights DIY (do it yourself) event.  

Corona’s DIY ethos was inspired by the late Mark “Monk” Hubbard. The visionary Seattleite Hubbard created the famous Burnside Skatepark Project in Portland, OR. Hubbard also founded Grindline, a company which designed over 400 skatepark across the United States and elsewhere. Corona met Hubbard, a DIY inspiration to many across the world, one month prior to Hubbard’s June 2018 death. Hubbard’s band Grindline, named after his company, was playing in Oakland, CA at a skateboarding event, the P-Stone Invitational. Corona says that during Grindline’s set “He [Hubbard] stared so intensely into my soul as he performed 5 ft in front of me.”

It was a life-changing moment for Corona and would lead directly to his passion project: Punk Rock Tacos (PRT). This is the first of many ideas Corona has for PRT. One he hopes to tackle next is building skateboarding bowl behind the restaurant.

The first PRT Sunday edition led to some patrons being disgruntled by the rowdy punk rock music, so these special showcases take place in a small exterior area behind the restaurant.   

Looking forward to the Fourth of July this year, Corona organized an event to take place on the Sunday the 3rd.  As a nod to Independence Day, the 13-band showcase featured two American flags adorned to the back of an old Army flatbed truck. Said truck, which Corona purchased for the event, also served as the stage. 

Although this was a Fourth of July event, it was hardly a day for shouting “Murica” and chanting USA USA USA. 

Instead, there was a strong diversity of band and crowd members, more than a few Anti-Fascist and Anti-Nazi patches on clothing, call-outs for change and fighting back by the musicians, Pride t-shirts spotted, in addition to feminist statements made. One singer received roaring applause to his declaration that men who lay hands (violently) on women are trash. In many ways, Punk Rock Tacos Fourth on the Third represented what should be the ideals of this experiment in democracy. Oh, and rocking the pit harder than anyone else in attendance were a four-year-old named Lucas and an Australian cattle dog named Max. 

Of course, the main reason for the event wasn’t to focus on the disturbing events of the last several years, and especially the past few months. 

For Punk Rock Tacos founder Noah Corona, this was event was not about politics or division. Rather, it was about release and people having an out outlet to express themselves. Corona reflected on the event a day after the Highland Park mass shooting. He has also been shaken by a fatal motorcycle accident just blocks away from the event which Corona informed me occurred “while we were partying.”  Per Corona, “Life is too shitty to not have a good time, and if people don’t have their outlets a whole lot more death would be upon us.” 

What an outlet it was. Among the thirteen bands were No Dead HeroesThe RustixWAYDSBQuantumThe ThrowawaysShitizen, and Real Bad Real Fast

No Dead Heroes’ mission statement is, “We’re here to fuck shit up.” Shit did not actually get fucked up but the band tore through its 30-minute set much to the delight of the attendees. Those in lawn chairs and car seats removed from their vehicles to be used as lawn chairs, as well as those who stood both near and away from the stage. Frank Lombardo propelled the band both in voice and on the drums. Whether it was the heat of the bright afternoon or his physical efforts, Lombardo’s reddened face painted a portrait of punk rock intensity. 

Milwaukee’s The Rustix don’t consider themselves a political band according to its social media. However, per a Facebook post from June 25, 2022, “Rustix and the Midwest Hardcore Punx scene stand in solidarity with people that have uteruses. If you don’t, don’t come to our shows, you aren’t welcome.” For the band members some issues transcend politics and The Rustix brought a set that was as tight and strong as that message.

WAYDSB states on its website: “We want to share our perspectives with you, and maybe our music will help you understand and feel what it is we’re expressing.” The band demonstrated this motto during its banger of a set. Drummer Liam Cavanaugh was clad in a (LGBQT+) “Pride” shirt and rainbow tie dye style cap, while guitarist James McFadden wore a t-shirt sporting the name of satirical 2016 U.S. Presidential candidate Deez Nutz. 

Quantum, out of Crystal Lake, brought the fun. With a combo multi-bongo and just enough cowbells set up, how could it not? There was Bass player Shawn Belletynee draped in an American flag as a cape, a brand-new song entitled Planet B.S., and blood. Well, blood on the bongos at least. Lead singer Zac Dawson decided it was a good sign and queried “Blood on the bongos, isn’t that a Bob Dylan album?”

Noah Corona’s own band, The Throwaways, elicited loud cheers and clapping for both the music and for his creation of Punk Rock Tacos and this event. It was obvious by his constant smile throughout the day, how grateful Corona was for that appreciation and the joy his hard work has brought him. The Throwaways, as a band, honored his hard work with its rollicking set. Immediately after the set Corona was back on the ground making sure the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. 

Ah Shitizen. With all due respect to, and respect is most definitely owed to them, Josh on drums, Elliot on bass, and Jerm on guitar, it is lead singer Claudia Guajardo who steals the most focus at every Shitizen show. With her hyperkinetic energy and charisma, she is the very definition a band’s front person. As is the case at every Shitizen show, Guajardo refused to stick only to the stage. But this being on the back of a truck, she did accept an assist from her boyfriend Adam Kreutzer (lead singer for Kreutzer and the newly joined drummer for Knoxious.) who helped her in and out of the high up flatbed stage. She scaled the truck herself before the set and after, but Kreutzer’s help allowed her the continuity of singing, microphone in hand. It’s a blast to watch Guajardo in frenzied action. The band is also a model of DIY as they finished up making their band shirts and merch themselves the morning of the event. 

Metro Chicago’s Real Bad Real Fast was formed in 5 or 6 years ago. They invited friends and family to this event on Facebook with a sentiment presently shared by a good portion of the USA: “Come celebrate Freedom (cough)” adding “At least freedom enough for us to rock your socks off!!” As the gloaming set in, lights were installed on the already too confined stage before knocking off of socks began.

Corona described the event as epic and credited his second in command organizer Matthew “Cactus Matt” Durica and sound engineer Steve Anthony for much of the success of the event and PRT, and told everyone involved that he was “proud of all of us.”

A few days after the event Corona stated, “I am happier than shit right now, and all I can think is, what’s next?”

More Photos from The Fourth on the Third below!

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