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Chat Pile

5 Awesome Albums You Need To Listen To Before Finalizing Your 2022 AoTY Lists

Chat Pile

As we near the end of 2022, music critics, publications, and fans alike are busy putting together their year-end lists. Did your favorite band put out a new project that you love? Did you discover a new artist altogether? Whatever tops your list will surely fill you with a sense of nostalgia for the music year that was. Sometimes, however, some truly excellent projects need to be revisited. Before The Dying Scene contributors put out any year-end list, some projects we did not cover throughout the year deserve some love! Without further ado, here are five punk/punk-adjacent albums released in 2022 that you may have missed.

The Chats: Get Fucked

Ironically, the first artist covered in this collection is one many readers have likely already checked out. That’s okay, though, because the only criteria we’re going off of is whether Dying Scene covered their 2022 release. And we didn’t.

The Chats are a garage punk-y band from Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. The band has made a name for themselves in their short career with a viral hit in their pocket; their 2017 single “Smoko.” The song and its accompanying music video have been listened to and viewed millions of times, making it a track with mainstream success that few new punk bands have experienced now in recent times. They’ve built on this acclaim and continued their string of releasing solid material with their 2022 release, Get Fucked.

Get Fucked continues in the style the Chats have made their trademark early in their career. The hallmarks of this style include sneering, bratty vocals, straightforward garage guitar riffs, and simple yet catchy songwriting that harkens back to early British punk bands while still not sounding dated. Clocking in at under 30 minutes, this is no-nonsense pub rock/garage punk that makes for a fun listen. If you haven’t already checked out Get Fucked, start with the single 6L GTR.

Chat Pile: God’s Country

While the Chats’ Get Fucked oozes fun and charisma, God’s Country by Chat Pile (not to be confused with The Chats) switches gears into abrasive and disgusting cacophony (This is a compliment of the highest order).

Chat Pile, hailing from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, is a self-described noise rock outfit that some music media lumps into the sludge metal category. Whatever you want to call it, Chat Pile burst onto the scene in 2022 with the release of their debut album God’s Country. While the band formed in 2019 and released EPs after that, their 2022 debut served as a real coming-out party. God’s Country was met with critical acclaim, currently at 87% approval on Metacritic.

Don’t trust the critics; take this record on a spin yourself. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but for anyone that enjoys noisy, unvarnished, and brutal rock music, this record may be for you.

While the instrumentation provides much of the mood, and truthfully this record would still be enjoyable if you only treated the vocals as sonic texture, a dive into the songwriting serves as horror itself. The vocalist of Chat Pile, under the pseudonym Raygun Busch, described the themes in God’s Country as ranging from homelessness to a 1974 mass murder of six restaurant employees in Oklahoma City. If you missed God’s Country and are intrigued, check out the opening track for the record “Slaughterhouse.”

Fresh: Raise Hell

In July of 2022, Brighton emo/indie/pop punk rockers Fresh released their new record, Raise Hell. Before the release of Raise Hell, Fresh was perhaps best known for their 2021 single “Girl Clout,” an anthemic indie rock track about disingenuous performative feminism in the punk and overall music community. The star in this track is the simultaneously emotionally vulnerable and biting songwriting and vocal performance of Kathryn Woods.

Raise Hell is a natural follow-up to the path set forth on that 2021 single as Fresh comes through with an 11-track suite of melodic emo/pop punk/indie rock tracks. (Full disclosure, this is not my favorite style of music, but Raise Hell has proven to be something that continues to draw attention and re-listens.)

Each track comes with at least a few moments of clever songwriting, a fun riff, or something in the overall composition that seems to transport you to the emotional place the song is trying to evoke. This means that even if one song is not one’s favorite on the album, something still makes it stand out. Check out their single “Why Do I,” and if you’re into it, consider giving the record a listen!

Petrol Girls: Baby

Throughout punk rock history, much of the excellent material is born out of anger, anxiety, or isolation from society. It’s unfortunate that the genre often reaps its most memorable moments from the unjust actions of society, but that is something that comes with the territory. Baby, the new full-length record by UK/Austria-based hardcore band Petrol Girls, is now a vital part of this tradition.

Hardcore/Post-Hardcore/Riot Grrrl act Petrol Girls have always been incredibly politically active, specifically on feminist issues. Still, the developments around women’s reproductive rights over the last couple of years seemed to light an even greater fire for the band. Baby is the band’s rawest, most vitriol-filled, and angriest project. While the disdain is palpable, the songwriting is always well-crafted, with much thought put into it. On many songs, albums, or pieces of media that deal with political or social issues, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being ham-fisted. This trap never reveals itself on Baby as the issues at hand are of grave importance and are treated as such.

The music matches the message, too, as, in a similar way to the aforementioned God’s Country, this record is not necessarily a pleasant listen. The math-rock and post-hardcore influences that have always been present in their work show up in even greater abundance. The texture is like sandpaper on many songs, providing a perfect backdrop to the vocal performance and lyrics, which take center stage. A short-form review like this can’t do justice to this project’s depth and gravity. If you missed out on Baby, do yourself a favor, acquaint yourself with the single “Preachers,” and listen to the whole album.

Soul Glo: Diaspora Problems

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the term “rap-rock” used to be cause for apprehension. There are, of course, some stand-out successes, but for the most part, you knew you were in for something that was likely tacky, aesthetic over substance, and not a great listening experience. This trend has recently changed with several artists, such as Show Me the Body, Slowthai, and City Morgue, producing a much more palatable and harmonious fusion of the genres. Another such artist at the forefront of this effort is Soul Glo, who released an excellent project, Diaspora Problems, in 2022.

Soul Glo is a trio from Philadelphia that has quickly risen to be one of the punk landscape’s most exciting and unique voices. They are simultaneously a hardcore band and a rap outfit. They deal with serious themes like racism and consumerism but also love to inject absurdist humor.

Soul Glo has built a lot of momentum since their formation in 2014, and Diaspora Problems feels like the culmination and crowning achievement of this moment in their career. As their first release on Epitaph Records, this is likely the most prominent platform the band has ever had. The record is abrasive, hardcore, and at times features production reminiscent of a classic east-coast hip hop (think Public Enemy’s classic It Takes a Nation of Millions…) style but updated and outfitted to the unmistakably punk leanings of the group.

Much like Baby from Petrol Girls, the songwriting themes on this record are too nuanced and in-depth to cover in this kind of short format, but do yourself a favor and check out Diaspora Problems, along with their single “Driponomics (Featuring Mother Maryrose).”

Wrapping Up 2022

We hope you discovered some new bands or excellent projects released in 2022 through this collection. Obviously, there are far more than just these five albums that may have slipped through the cracks for some people. Let us know your favorite albums from 2022 that may have yet to get the press or hype they deserve!

While this was just a quick summary of some of these projects, it is impossible in this format to give them the in-depth analysis they deserve, so please consider checking out the ones that intrigue you.

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Bridge The Gap

Bridge The Gap is a collection of four friends who toured hard and released music together in the ’90s and early ’00s. After putting down their instruments for a time to start families, the dudes reorganized as a new band with a fresh creative perspective and a burning passion to share Utah skate-punk with the world.

Chris Fleming is keeping things fresh with some beginner’s luck

<p>Whenever Chris Fleming plans his annual return home with shows at The Wilbur, he often forgets how close he books them to the holidays, and just how likely an act of god is when it comes to the weather. But what he doesn’t forget is the love and support that’s waiting there for him, year after year. It will be much if the same case in that regard when he makes his way to Tremont Street for two shows at […]</p>
<p>The post <a rel="nofollow" href="https://vanyaland.com/2022/12/13/chris-fleming-is-keeping-things-fresh-with-some-beginners-luck/">Chris Fleming is keeping things fresh with some beginner’s luck</a> appeared first on <a rel="nofollow" href="https://vanyaland.com">Vanyaland</a>.</p>

Dead Kennedys give more details on 'Fresh Fruit' remix LP, Jello responds

As previously reported, the Dead Kennedys (East Bay Ray, Klaus Flouride, and DH Peligro) have announced that they are releasing a re-mix of the icononic Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables album. The new version is remixed by Chris Lord-Alge. Last week, the band issued more information and stated that the new version will be out September 30 via Cherry Red. The new version also includes a new essay, quotes from people influenced by the band, and new interior art. In a press release, the band stated that the new mix is "a revolutionary, must-hear experience for everybody familiar with the original. Last night, Jello Biafra, the original singer of DKs, issued a statement on the release. In brief, Jello says he was not consulted on the remix and that he is displeased with the band. He also offered up a list of his favorite previously released mixes/mastering of the album. You can see Jello's response below.

DS Album Review: Hayley & The Crushers – “Modern Adult Kicks”

It’s summer in 2002 and it’s about to be golden hour while you lay on your bed staring at the ceiling. You are dwelling on some fight you had with your mom. Every friend you have is out having fun or on vacation- unreachable by phone and you’re swearing off each and every one of […]

It’s summer in 2002 and it’s about to be golden hour while you lay on your bed staring at the ceiling. You are dwelling on some fight you had with your mom. Every friend you have is out having fun or on vacation- unreachable by phone and you’re swearing off each and every one of them. Your last ditch effort of hope points to a Walkman and a bike while you ride the familiar streets of some suburban Midwestern town with headphones filled with relief.

Flash forward to 2022 after a pandemic and a half has washed over you and you’re still sitting with the same feeling of being grated by life, but you have time to step into the Crushverse and kick it with Hayley & the Crushers. Modern Adult Kicks is an album that houses singles released from 2021 and some fresh new tunes from the band and most have adult themes paired with power pop fun that are sure to ride with you from your morning coffee to a late-night vinyl dance sesh. By the way, this album comes in a limited edition blue raspberry for those vinyl aficionados.

Modern Adult Kicks starts off strong with the single “Taboo” which offers this hefty guitar riff as Hayley’s dark and devious voice coaxes you melodiously to the stranger side of power pop. You’re gonna follow her and you’re gonna love where it’s headed. In the 2nd verse, the first four lines are delivered such a mood of heavy desperation and need. You hear it in the annunciation of T’s and the beaks in guitar. “Taboo” connects this memory of that feeling while looking out of the window in The Lockdown of 2020. You wanted to go out, but you know it was taboo.

The album goes on to carry The Crushers’ more polished sound for your tender punk heart. The band has described this album as an example of “how to grow up without growing jaded.” Nothing could be more rightly said about it. The death of the ego really prevails in the sound of Hayley’s sharp guitar playing, lyrics, and titles of songs in this album. Songs like “She Drives”, “California Sober”, and “Overexposed” bring out this perfect mixture of sunny pop-tempo painting this scene of punks enjoying life knowing full well everything around them is burning (this is fine). Which is just the kind of macabre sense of fun that most of us who survived the past few years may need right now. Don’t worry for all you tough guys out there the album still houses the familiar punk sound echoing the frustration and need to thrash around that resides in most of us.

In her own words on Sound Digest, Hayley has written a little year in review which gives insight into what this album may mean to her. It is in this touching honesty as she writes about being a musician during the pandemic, getting her shit together, and driving to really refine her career as a musician. All the touring she wanted to do for the band’s last album which was released in 2020 never got to come to fruition. All that hard work and self-reflection came to be in March of 2021 when the band was signed by Josie Cotton to her record label Kitten Robot Records. The band got to work with Paul Roessler remotely as well as in person for Modern Adult Kicks and the album was mastered by Mass Giorgini (Squirtgun). The band is gearing up for a tour that begins September 23rs, 2022 and it is one that you may not want to miss out on.

Modern Adult Kicks is available for purchase

Tour Dates & Locations

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DS Exclusive: (World) Cup The Punx! Volume 1 w/members of Stiff Little Fingers, Slapshot, Sam Russo and more!

Reporting by Dying Scene Staff Members, MerGold, Jay Stone, Rae, and Nasty Nate Dying Scene staffers are fans of “The Beautiful Game,” and we are not alone. Some of your favorite punk musicians from all over the United States and internationally discuss the game they love and what they are looking forward to as World […]

Reporting by Dying Scene Staff Members, MerGold, Jay Stone, Rae, and Nasty Nate

Dying Scene staffers are fans of “The Beautiful Game,” and we are not alone. Some of your favorite punk musicians from all over the United States and internationally discuss the game they love and what they are looking forward to as World Cup 2022 kicks in to action in Doha, Qatar. The selection of Qatar as the host nation the subject of FIFA itself, has been rife with controversy from the get-go. Some of the musicians don’t mince words about these issues. Indeed, many of us are also torn over the question of whether to watch the World Cup or not in light of the deserved criticisms. That’s for each of us to decide as individuals. However, in response to our questions about the World Cup and the sport in general, here are the answers from the participating musicians. Also, for newbies to the sport or those needing a refresher course here is a guide from The Athletic for World Cup 2022 viewing.


Jake Burns of Stiff Little Fingers is a living legend. Burns, now living in Chicago, is unafraid to be blunt when expressing his views, whether in song or any other form. Here, he tackles the elephant in the stadium straight on.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

JB: “Nothing. Seriously. I cannot ever remember NOT caring about the World Cup since I was transfixed by the great Brazil team of 1970. I was 12 years old and marvelled at the mercurial Jairzinho, the only player to score in every round. The selection of venues for the last two World Cups stinks to high heaven. (See the great Netflix documentary “FIFA Uncovered”.) However, there was some footballing merit on the tournament being awarded to Russia last time around. This time, there is none. To move the tournament from its usual summer schedule to the winter just to facilitate it being played in the desert is only one reason to ignore this travesty, perhaps the least salient reason in fact.”

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?

JB: “I spent the longest period of my life living in England and, obviously I’m most familiar with those players so, insomuch as I will be rooting for anyone, that’s who I will be pulling for. It’s also great to see Wales there after a huge absence. As a fairly recently minted American citizen, I also hope the U.S. do well. As to who will win it? Brazil. Not a particularly brave call on my part, but I think the temperatures will suit them more than any of the European teams. And, IF they play to their full potential, I honestly think England can make it all the way to the final.”

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

JB: “Newcastle United. A team that for decades was mired in unfulfilled potential. As a one club city, Newcastle has long been one of the many “sleeping giants” of English football. A recent takeover by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, for which read “Saudi Arabia” (honestly that “PIF” stuff is fooling no-one), has led to renewed investment both in staff and facilities that might, finally, see the Toon realize their vast potential…albeit at the cost of a considerable part of their soul.”

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area?

JB: “I lived in Newcastle for about sixteen years. As I said, it’s a one club city and if you don’t follow the Toon, then you don’t talk to anyone, at all, about anything!”

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

JB: “Every kid in Britain or Ireland at one point fancied themselves a footballer, but as my eyesight was rubbish from an early age, I always sucked at it. So, no.”


Mike Park (past: Deal’s Gone Bad {DGB}; Lord Mike’s Dirty Calypsonians; present: The Crombies.) is a die-hard fan of West Ham F.C.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup? 

MP: “The Qatar thing is sketchy I’m not saying I’m looking forward to drama but there’s gonna be drama. I’m ACTUALLY looking forward to seeing the US back in the mix. The collapse in qualifying last time was brutal.”

DS: Which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy? 

MP: “I want interesting things to happen, go underdogs! Often the further in your go the more boring and predictable the teams get. An Argentina Spain style final would be lame. Snore…

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?  How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area? 

MP: “I’m a Declan Rice, West Ham guy. I definitely got into West Ham via the punk scene. I got to see them at Upton Park years ago when they were down v Rotherham. I think West Ham’s biggest name that year was Marlon Harewood so I can say “I saw Marlon Harewood live!” Lol

The Chicago Fire once had a THRIVING supporters scene that was heavily influenced by the punk rocks. Years of failure and overt front office hostility eventually chased it away. It still exists but isn’t welcome anymore by the organization.

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself? 

MP: I grew up in a blue collar suburb of LA in the 70s and soccer wasn’t really available to us, you had to move to a fancier neighborhood for that, it was all baseball and football near me. I did play bar league for the Delilah’s team for a couple years back in the early 2000s. It was hilarious, a bunch of hungover punk rock types up against folks who had played in college, were fit and hydrated. We had the most tattoos of any other team and eventually even won a couple games.

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs? 

MP: “Obviously my favorite punk soccer song is the Chicago Fire goal song Deal’s Gone Bad recorded back in 2002. They used it for like 15 years and it was always a trip to hear myself on ESPN.

In all seriousness I think my fave punk soccer song isn’t really explicitly about soccer but it captures the spirit of the whole scene and the vibe that makes it so exciting – “If the Kids are United” by Sham 69.”


Vee Sonnets presently performs with Park in the Crombies and formerly with him in DGB. He also leads The Sonnets.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

VS: “All of it.

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?

VS: “I’m rooting for my team Ecuador but it’s looking like Qatar is gonna run away with it.” [DS note: Ecuador beat Qatar in the opening match of the 2022 World Cup]

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

VS: “Tough one but I am rooting for [Lionel Messi. He deserves to win one.

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from the area?

VS: “Nationality.

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

VS: “Yes. H.S. and pick up games throughout my life.

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?

VS: “Kick in the Eye.”


Jordan Salazar of Vultures United is such an Association Football fan he has favorite clubs from almost all of the most prominent leagues around the globe.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

JS: “Just the whole thing. It’s like a month-long gift”

DS: Which teams do you think are going to be there at the end fighting for the trophy?

JS: “Rooting for Mexico then Portugal then the US. Fighting at the end? Argentina, Brazil and France.”

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premier League, Major League Soccer, or any other leagues around the world?

JS: “English Premier League = Manchester United / MLS = LAFC / La Liga = Real Madrid / Ligue 1 = PSG / Liga MX = Chivas / Serie A = Juventus and Roma

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?

JS: “For Manchester United, it was all Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. He came up in Mexico and played for Chivas, who are from the town my Dad and uncles grew up in. So Chivas and Mexican International Soccer was the first sports teams I was exposed to as a kid and just never stopped following them from then on. Oddly enough, out of all teams mentioned, Manchester United is definitely the team I care and pay attention to (and suffer with) the most.”

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

JS: “I play 1 to 2 times a week
with an adult league team or pick-up soccer with friends (our pick-up
group has been doing it for 15 years!)”

“I’m part of an adult club team still called Green Valley Football Club.”

 


Singer-Songwriter Sam Russo is as hardcore soccer supporter so he’ll be keeping his eyes on the matches. Russo will also be on the lookout for commentary by his Red Scare Industries boss Tobias Jeg.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

SR: “The thing I’m looking forward to most about the World Cup is watching England win the World Cup. Also, Jeg on Twitter defending the refs.”

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?

 SR: “I’m rooting for England, and I’m pretty sure Germany will be hanging in there at the end as usual. I follow all the Italy games because my family is Italian, and I always root for Mexico, too.” [DS note: for the second consecutive time Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup.]

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

SR: “I support Ipswich Town – the Tractor Boys. My favourite player in the Premier League is a guy called Robin Koch. Great punk name.”

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?

SR: “I became a Tractor Boy when I was a kid because Ipswich were the only team we could afford to go watch play. Me, my brothers and my Dad used to go to every home game. We had awesome seats because nobody went. It was great!” 

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

SR: “I play 5-a-side with a group I’ve been playing with for over ten years! It’s the highlight of my week and I love those bellends.

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?

SR: “Olé by the Bouncing Souls, and Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner, and The Lightning Seeds.

Sam Russo says about the photo he included with his answers:

“Yeah! This is me and my team from an 11-a-side match before the pandemic – WE ARE THE SMSC! On yer touch! Shoutout to the excellent humans I play with, they always support my music and we have a bloody good time on a Friday!”


Ryan Packer of Slapshot, is a massive Chelsea F.C. supporter (as are my cousins; I am a long-time supporter of the current EPL-leading Arsenal FC.). So naturally, he, along with Jake Burns, was one of the first people I solicited for this piece. I recalled the photo I shot of him in his Chelsea kit as he worked producing a Boston punk rock weekend several years ago.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

RP: “I would obviously like to see the US make a round or two. That’s all we can hope for with that squad.” 

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for and which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy and will win that trophy?

RP: “The last two cups I was lucky enough to be in Europe. I have some great memories of Belgium advancing. Maybe they can put a couple of wins together.”

[on what is one of the best aspects of the World Cup] “That’s what’s great about the tournament it can go a million different ways.”

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premiere League, United States Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

RP: “Premier league I’m a Chelsea FC supporter. I have to support the hometown team so I also back the [New England] Revolution.”


DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?

RP: “I became a Chelsea fan by going to a local bar that a lot of supporters hung out at Saturday mornings so I became a fan.”

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?

RP: ‘War On The Terraces” by The Cockney Rejects is definitely a stand out.” 


For Felipe Patino, from SACK, disappointment struck during the Qualifiers. His native Peru’s national team did not qualify for the World Cup. Still, he will be cheering on one team in particular.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup?

FP: “Argentina winning.

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for? Which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy?

FP: “Rooting for Argentina and France.”

DS:  Do you have a favorite team(s)/player(s) in the English Premier League, Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

FP: Haaland, Martinelli, and Luis Diaz for the Premier League. Flores and Gallese for the MLS.  Messi and Ramos for L1.  Advincula for Primera Division

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?

FP: “Just by enjoying the talent and appreciating the sport.” 

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

FP: “Yes, still do occasionally.”

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?

FP: Domingos by Dos Minutos.


Pedro Aida, of Fire Sale, does not have a particular bar or spot on his couch from where he’ll be watching the matches. But he still plans to watch as many as he can.

DS: What are you most looking forward to in the World Cup? 

PA: “I’ll be on tour in Europe for most of it with The Iron Roses and I’m looking forward to the experience of watching some of those matches in that environment. All but one of the countries we’re performing in is in the World Cup. Additionally we have some time off so I’ll be in Paris for the semis and London for the final. It would be a dream if France or England were in those matches.”

DS: Which team(s) are you rooting for? Which teams do you think are going to be there are the end fighting for the trophy? 

PA: “Since my home country of Peru missed out in the playoff I’ll be pulling for the Yanks. My final four bracket is Argentina, Germany, France, and Croatia with Argentina winning the cup.

DS: Do you have a favorite team(s))/player(s) in the English Premier League, Major League Soccer or any other leagues around the world?

PA: “Fulham FC from the Prem. Tim Ream is my guy, excellent defender and will be holding down the backline in Qatar for the US. I’ve forgiven him for being a former [NY] Red Bull (barf).”

“The team I’ve been watching and supporting since I was a teenager is D.C United (VAMOS UNITED). Grew up watching Ben Olsen play and then coach for DC. Named my first born Olsen.”

My local home team is The Richmond Kickers in USL League 1. My guy Emiliano Terzaghi, an Argentinian striker, just took his 3rd League MVP in a row. #UpTheRoos!”

DS: How did you become a fan of the team if not from that area?

PA: “I’ve been a casual Fulham supporter for about 20 years since they brought in Brian McBride and are known for bringing in Americans well before it was common to see Yanks in European football.

DS: Did you ever play football/soccer yourself?

PA: “Played as a kid and through high school (rec). Didn’t really play regularly throughout my 20’s. In my 30’s I dove back into it pretty seriously in adult rec leagues here in Richmond. I’ve been taking it easy this past year with touring and stuff ramping up, I can’t risk getting injured.”

DS: Favorite Football related punk songs?

PA: “Not so punk but it’s Men Without Hats “Pop Goes The World”. I could say something by Cockney Rejects or The Business but they don’t represent any of my clubs.”


Dying Scene’s Nate Kernell has curated a special playlist for the World Cup. Check it out here and let us know what tunes should be added! Also, stay tuned for more installments of (World) Cup The Punx!

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DS Exclusive: Danvers – “Cliff Jumper”

Pittsburgh pop punkers Danvers announced that they are releasing a new LP in early 2023 and we couldn’t be happier about that! Matter of fact, when we heard the news about their upcoming third full length, titled Like We Knew What It Meant we immediately messaged them and started groveling for a single to premiere. […]

Pittsburgh pop punkers Danvers announced that they are releasing a new LP in early 2023 and we couldn’t be happier about that! Matter of fact, when we heard the news about their upcoming third full length, titled Like We Knew What It Meant we immediately messaged them and started groveling for a single to premiere. Welp… I guess they enjoyed watching us beg, because they sent us the second single to premiere, exclusively for DS Readers!! <3

When you’re done spinning this one a few times, be sure to check out the debut single “Lights! Camera! Cobra!”, too. Lastly, if you’re in the Northeast, the lads will be playing some shows over the next few weeks in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Head over to their Facebook page for more info and if you can make it out, we highly recommend doing so. Now, enjoy some fresh new tunes, comrades!


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DS Exclusive: Frank Casillas on The Hardyville Stranglers, leaving Voodoo Glow Skulls behind, Arizona, and Bicycles.

Frank Casillas founded Voodoo Glow Skulls with his brothers, Eddie and Jorge Casillas, along with Jerry O’Neill. He left the band in June 2017, making the announcement during a VGS performance at Long Beach, CA venue, Alex’s Bar. DS: Before we get to your new project, let’s go back to where you left off with […]

Frank Casillas founded Voodoo Glow Skulls with his brothers, Eddie and Jorge Casillas, along with Jerry O’Neill. He left the band in June 2017, making the announcement during a VGS performance at Long Beach, CA venue, Alex’s Bar.


DS: Before we get to your new project, let’s go back to where you left off with the Voodoo Glows Skulls. After so many years leading that band, how did the decision to leave come about at that moment in time?

FC: Well, I didn’t really plan a time and place to leave the band. It just kind of happened at a time when we were doing some weekend gigs here and there along the west coast, close to home, and some incidents that had occurred from within the band (ongoing arguments within the three brothers, differences between other band members, etc.) during this time just prompted me to just quit on the spot.

DS: How long did it take to make the decision to leave? Was there anything in particular prompting it?

FC: I had actually been thinking about leaving the band for at least five years prior to me actually doing it. For me personally, I was just burned out on the whole thing. We weren’t really being productive with writing new material, and it seemed like it was taking forever to record a new album. I didn’t really like the direction of the new material either. It just seemed like we were getting further away from the VGS style and sound that we were known for. Since we started the band, I was pretty much the main guy handling just about everything in the band business wise since day one, even when we had high profile management and everything. There’s always got be at least one person speaking for the band and making decisions on behalf of the band, and that was me for the longest time. Not only that, but I wore many hats besides just being the front man. I drove and maintained the vehicles, I was the tour manager, I organized and ordered the merch on top of also being a performer in the band. I also had a family with children, and I sacrificed a lot just to keep the band going when other guys in the band didn’t really care about anything else but playing and getting paid. We were constantly on the road being ran by a booking agent and it just became very routine. After a while, it just sucked everything out of me. Especially the creativity, and productivity aspect. I just wasn’t into it anymore and I felt like the band wasn’t really being productive and progressive like we used to be. I didn’t exactly leave on the proper terms and that struck a nerve with the remaining members in the band and some fans. But then again, I have never really heard of anyone giving a two weeks’ notice when they leave a band. My gut instinct just said it was time to leave and focus on me personally.


DS: Was there ever a time, either in the immediate aftermath of leaving the band or in the years since where you have had regrets about that decision or doubts that it was the best thing for you?

FC: “I helped start this band with my two younger brothers, and a neighborhood friend who was pretty much considered a brother. It obviously wasn’t an easy decision to leave after 27+ years. We accomplished a lot for just being a high school backyard party band that happened to tap into the youth of that era and play music that suburban kids could relate to. It was something that came natural to us, and we were just a product of our environment. It was hard for sure, and yes, for the longest time there were some mixed feelings of regret and guilt for just leaving like I did. But I also had my mindset of just moving on with my personal life and pursuing just me for the sake of the long-term, personal satisfaction, and personal well-being.


Photos bv Stoned Spider Photography

DS: Is there anything you miss about being on the road with the VGS / with your brothers specifically or just being on the road and in a band?

FC: I miss the fans! I don’t really miss the travel aspect, or anything related to that. When you’re young, that shit is cool! But as you get older, it gets harder to accept some of the accommodations that are handed to you on tour. Of course, I miss my brothers. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some sort of betrayal by them. I fully understand that I didn’t exactly leave on the best of terms. But I wasn’t okay mentally and physically and instead of being concerned about me possibly not being okay, they pretty much slandered me on the band’s social media and made me look an unstable person to our fans. I think that I deserved better than that regardless of the situation. I had done so much for our career, and I feel like my efforts and sacrifices as not only the front man, but a managing member went totally unappreciated and disrespected after all these years.


DS: How aware were you of the reactions from the fans of the band?

FC: The fans have always been great to me. Of course, I got some mixed reactions after leaving. Especially after I was blasted on the band’s social media for quitting. But I still get fans asking me to return. I get feedback from fans telling me that that it’s just not the same anymore without me, etc. There are also a lot of ex-fans who wrote me off. But that is to be expected, I guess.


DS: You spoke of great legacy when you announced you quit the band, how would you describe that legacy?

FC: We started off as just kids learning how to play instruments along with our vinyl records. We managed to tap into suburban kids and relate to their lifestyle through music that was pretty much inspired by our environment. This came at a time when we didn’t exactly have social media or the internet at our fingertips to help get exposure. It was all done organically and by word of mouth for the most part. Not only that, but we managed to transcend underlying racial boundaries and write bilingual ska/punk songs that Mexican, Chicano, and Anglo-American kids could relate to equally. We managed to do that for at least a couple of decades strong. If anything, I’m proud and happy that the band is still going strong without me. They have managed to reinvent themselves with a new front man and continue with their own version of VGS. It’s a different band for sure now.


Frank Casillas by Photo by Dana Krashin

DS: Please tell us about Tiki Bandits. What was it like to go from VGS to the TB? What were some of the most interesting differences you found, and any similarities?

FC: Tiki Bandits were never really a serious project for me. I started TB with some local friends in Arizona while I was still very active with VGS. It was just a side project for me, playing “punked up” cover versions of 50’s & 60’s tunes and an opportunity for me to stay somewhat creative and keep my musical chops up. I never really compared the band to VGS, as it was strictly just another musical outlet for me to just have fun and play gigs with no strings attached to a record label, a booking agent, or the industry in general. Sadly, we no longer exist as of 2021.

DS: Please tell us a bit about the origin of The Hardyville Stranglers.

FC: The Hardyville Stranglers are my newest and current band that came together in 2022 between myself and some local friends who share musical interests in Punk Rock music. Nick Fielding, our bass player has a strong punk rock musical history and played in the band Narcoleptic Youth for 6 years before moving out to the desert like me. The guitar players Steve Blanks and Bobby Narmaki have musical roots in the So Cal punk scene and have also played in several local bands. Jose Ibarra, our drummer has played in some local area bands and was also my drummer for Tiki Bandits. Somehow, we all ended up meeting and coming together musically out here in our area where we all reside. We all live in the Bullhead City area, and Hardyville is what Bullhead used to be called back in the old Wild west days. That’s how we came up with the name of the band.

DS: How much, if any, of your work in this band has been affected or influenced by the decades with the VGS?

FC: I don’t really think about that to be honest. My experience obviously helps with logistical things like organizing stuff for the band. But we don’t really consider ourselves a real working band or anything. We’re just having fun making music without any boundaries. It’s a breath of fresh air being able to play music just for fun and without any expectations from anyone. It’s reminiscent of when I first started playing with VGS, and that makes it fun and exciting for me again.


DS: Are there any songs on this record you personally connect with.  “Nobody Likes” for instance, is a song I think we all can relate to at different points of our lives.  Even if our self-perception may not be accurate.

FC: “Nobody Likes” is just a song poking fun at how it’s so easy for people to just complain about anything nowadays on platforms like YELP or leave negative reviews, and just be a Karen or whatever. No real strong meaning behind it. Just a stupid observation, I guess. Lol

DS: How did some of the other songs on the EP come to fruition?

FC: Nick our bass player had some songs in his back pocket that he wrote years ago, and we brought them to life. That motivated us to start figuring out our own sound and go from there, to write a few of our own tunes collectively as a band.

DS: What was the inspiration for this album?

FC: Just a group of four guys getting together on Sunday evenings to play music and see what comes out of it. That’s really all it is!

DS:  What are you looking forward to with this new group record.

FC: We really don’t have any set goals or anything. We can’t really tour extensively or anything because guys have jobs and families to feed. We are doing this just for fun and if we happen to gain some sort of popularity or success with it, I don’t think anyone in the band will be upset.

DS: What has the early reception to the record and the Hardyville Stranglers been?

FC: The reception has been great so far. We all commonly agree that punk rock has gotten soft nowadays. Punk used to be aggressive, anti-establishment a rough around the edges. Now it just seems polished, sensitive, and woke. So that pretty much influences us to just write stuff off the top of our heads and not really care about how it’s going to be received. So far, I think that it’s been working in our favor. We have gotten some good reviews claiming that we are a breath of fresh air for the punk scene.


DS: What is in the immediate or long-time future for The Hardyville Stranglers as far as you know right now?

FC: We are just playing locally right now with no real expectations or plans. Luckily with social media and the internet we can share our music to a much broader audience without having to go on tour or anything else. However, we are not opposed to doing a weekend here and there or traveling if the opportunity is there and most importantly, worthwhile for us.

DS: How has age and family/having children affected your approach to performing and all the related elements of being in a band.

FC: It gets harder as you get older. I don’t see how some of these guys are still out there doing this fulltime well into their 50’s and 60’s. I had small children and a family for a majority of my career in VGS and that made it extra hard to be gone all the time on tour. That was the hardest thing to deal with.

My kids are grown now, and I went through a divorce. I am just recently married again, and I have two step daughters that I am helping raise. I couldn’t see myself being able to leave on tour nowadays. Not only because of my new family, but my business as well.

DS: The final lyrics to “Disappear” are “Don’t Give A Fuck If I Live Or Die, I’ll Drop a Gear and Say Goodbye.” Again a sentiment it seems many people have had at some point in their lives. How do you relate to this sentiment, and does it bring you back to any specific moments or feelings in your life?

FC: I am and have always been a motorcyclist and enthusiast. I currently own three motorcycles and I live in a place where outlaw bikers are for real and part of the history here.  That song is a biker song mainly, but it is also highly relatable to other non-bikers, I guess. I never really thought it that way to be honest.


DS: Why Arizona? Specifically, Bullhead? What went into the decision to leave CA for AZ?

FC: I left my hometown of Riverside, California for Bullhead City, Arizona in 2000 mainly so my kids could grow up in a safer and less influenced environment. I felt like California was just getting overpopulated, dangerous and super expensive. Pretty much how it is today! In my eyes, Bullhead City is paradise and still far enough, yet still within arm’s reach of my roots in California. We have the desert, mountains, the Colorado River running through town, and you just have more access for outdoor, recreational opportunities here in general.

DS: What are the differences you have experienced between the two states and the similarities. Same goes for Riverside v Bullhead?

FC: There is quite a bit of similarities between the two here. Most residents here have roots in California and have just ended up here to live by default. I have felt more sense of freedom living in Arizona and it seems like there are far less restraints living in Mohave County. The cost of living here is generally less and you don’t have as many outside influences living in the desert. Even though, things are rapidly changing because of the sudden high influx of people leaving California and moving here. It still has that small town and tight knit community vibe.

DS: You operate a bicycle shop – Rad Stop. Why bicycles?

FC: I grew up on my bicycle and they have always been a passion of mine.

DS: Please tell us about the business? Is there a story behind the founding of the business?

FC: I  got my 4-year-old son involved in BMX racing as alternative to organized team sports. He took a liking to it immediately, he became very good at it, and when the local BMX track here in town opened, we had already been racing for a few years in nearby Lake Havasu. Parents at the newly opened track saw that my son was already advanced in the sport, and they started approaching me about helping them get their kid set up with the proper bicycle and equipment. After a few years of doing that, I realized that there was a need for a credible and reliable bicycle shop in the area. The rest is history, and I have been the longest and only operating shop here in my immediate area and within a 60-mile range for over a decade.

DS: Have there been fans of yours not aware that you run this business, come to the shop as customers and what has the reaction been if that has happened?

FC: Yes, it happens almost daily, and I have even had fans come through on vacation just to stop by, say hello, take photos and get an autograph.

DS: How often do you get out on a bicycle, and when did you learn? Do you remember your first bicycle and what kind was it? Banana seat, as was mine?

FC : I honestly do not ride a bicycle very much at all anymore for leisure or recreation. However, I test ride customer bicycles daily after repairing them. But I spend so much time working on them, that it’s the last thing I want to do on my limited spare time. My first real bicycle was a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat and a stick shifter that I got at the age of 10.

DS: What went into opening this shop up and running it?

FC:  I opened my shop on a shoestring budget of one thousand dollars and a plan to set myself up with a backup plan to have something to fall back on after my musical career. I took on a job as a bicycle assembly technician for Kmart during some downtime with VGS and gained most of the knowledge from that, and a friend that was already in the business. I was running my shop via satellite while still actively touring with VGS and relying on others to help. It just never really got off the ground until I decided to leave the band in 2017 and pursue it fulltime by myself.

DS: Is there anything running a business has in common with leading a band.

FC: Yes, you must have leadership, management, and communicative skills to run any business. Being the leader and main negotiator for the band most certainly taught me how to be self-employed and take risks involved with being successful.

DS: You also ride motorcycles?

FC: Oh god yes!

DS: What is your main ride currently?

FC: I currently own 3 motorcycles. I had 5 up until just recently. But my favorite is my 2000 Kawasaki Ninja ZX750R sport bike.

DS: How often are you able to ride and do you take longer trips on it?

FC: I ride at least a few times a week, weather permitting. Which is pretty much year-round here where I live.

DS: Ride solo? How often in a group?

FC: I do ride solo occasionally, and that seems to be the most therapeutical. But I prefer to ride with a buddy for safety reasons, and no more than 2-3 people because group rides can be dangerous in my opinion.


DS: Please tell us anything you want to about family life and what you like to do when away from both music and the shop.

FC: Life is uneventful and slower paced nowadays. My bicycle business is a labor of love and a passion. I get pure enjoyment seeing people react when I can get their bicycles looking nice a working properly once again. As I mentioned before, I am recently remarried, and I am thoroughly enjoying being a family man again. I look forward to Sundays when we get together at my shop to rehearse and create new music with my friends in this new band.

DS: Does your son Cid play music or shown interest in performing?

FC: My son is a very talented independent hip hop artist. He’s a finance manager for FORD and that consumes most of his life and cannot pursue his music full time. But look him up! I have been to a couple of his local shows. El Cid or NTFB, on Spotify

DS: Cid is an advanced BMX rider. Were you a BMX rider at any point in your life?

FC: I grew up riding my BMX bike in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the sport was just getting started. I was fortunate to grow up in the same neighborhood and go to school with a lot of the early pros who went on to become legendary in the sport. My son is a natural and still races at the age of 24. He is a mentor at the local track and in my eyes a local BMX legend.

DS: Thank you.

FC: Thank you.


Hardyville Stranglers performance photos by Stoned Spider Photography LV. Other Frank Casillas performance photo by Dana Krashin as indicated. All other photos courtesy of Frank Casillas.

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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: 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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