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DS Album Review: Sarchasm – “Conditional Love”

It’s always a shame when a band calls it quits, and that’s exactly what Sarchasm did a few weeks ago. When they announced their newest record, they also announced their last concert dates and their “indefinite hiatus”, but let’s be honest, on Instagram, that’s a nicer way of saying “we need a break from each […]


It’s always a shame when a band calls it quits, and that’s exactly what Sarchasm did a few weeks ago. When they announced their newest record, they also announced their last concert dates and their “indefinite hiatus”, but let’s be honest, on Instagram, that’s a nicer way of saying “we need a break from each other”. But, let’s move on to the fact that they are nice enough to go out with another album to please their fans. Well, guys, the last record is called Conditional Love, being released via Asian Man Records and it’s really good.

The first track “Hold Some Space” kicks off with the sweet introduction of drums only to be joined by guitar from Mateo Campos (he/him), who also provides vocals, then the bass from Alex Botkin (he/him), picking up just in time for the vocals to be provided by Stevie Campos-Seligman (they/them). Stevie’s delivery of the lyrics in the song isn’t something to play around with. Being able to drum and sing simultaneously, with a song that has this speed that it continually does throughout the song, is impeccable. ‘I’m grateful for everything you give to me/ But there’s a price tag on everything it seems’ could this little (vegan) nugget be about how conditional love is how one would feel they need to earn it? This song definitely does touch that subject, mostly during the bridge, we hear a more vulnerable mindset, on how the other person hasn’t been thoughtful about their partners feelings, singing that “I am not doing this anymore for you/I am now doing this for much more than you/ It didn’t matter to me, just you before/ Now I can matter to me, not you some more/ I’ll be more”. What a way to open an album, here one is left with the longing for self-reflection, which makes this song very special. Next up is “Crazy”, the first single that was released the day they announced Conditional Love, this is your classic indie punk song, and no wonder it was pushed as the first single from the album. The lyrics, vocals, and backing vocals at the end, fast-paced guitar riffs, and good underlying bass tone make this song a favorite from the first listen. This is probably a song taken out of my diary in my teens and I’m vibing with this one. The third track on the LP is “Therapist”, what a song to add to an album. It’s amazing. “Just see a therapist/ I know you can afford it/ Go please handle your shit with a therapist” is the first lines that hit your ear stream with a simple guitar that makes so much sense, because it picks up with all the instruments coming when they near the end of the verse. Some might get triggered but it’s good fun and the fun continues throughout the song; it opens your eyes and some might need to hear this. “I try not to let you down/ I try, and you let me down” could very well be a reference to how some might use their friends as a therapist, not thinking about the toll you put on your friends when you do that.

Let me jump a bit because I could go on and on about this album. The second single and fifth track from the album was “Good News”, and could be overanalyzed as how the world has gone to shits the last few years, and how we are waiting for “good news” instead of the bad news we are constantly overthrown by the news channels. The track starts of with Mateo’s guitar riffs, followed by the vocals, for a song with lyrics that seem so true, the song itself is so uplifting. The last track, “Conditional Love”, also the title of the album, is so upbeat and your classic pop-punk song, and what a way to end an album. “Everything’s gonna be alright/ everything’s gonna be fine”, short and simple with some out-of-this-world fast-paced drumming, and guitar riffs and nonetheless, the bass in this song shines through, ending the song with beautiful simple notes on the guitar and the final words sung “One day this pain will just be memory /’cause I know, everything is going to be alright”. And with that, Sarchasm bows out.

For twelve years, Sarchasm has been making extremely relatable music and sometimes, seeing a band like this go on “indefinite hiatus” can be rough. But at least they gave us one last album to cling to and for that, we sincerely thank them!

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DS Exclusive: Wes Hoffman and Friends Sign with Jump Start Records, Announce Spring Tour Dates and November Full-Length

It’s a special day over here at Dying Scene HQ as we get the distinct honor of being the first to announce and congratulate the newest members of the Jump Start Records team: Wes Hoffman and Friends! Joining the catalog of punk rock heavy-hitters such as A Wilhelm Scream, MxPx, Off With Their Heads, among […]

It’s a special day over here at Dying Scene HQ as we get the distinct honor of being the first to announce and congratulate the newest members of the Jump Start Records team: Wes Hoffman and Friends! Joining the catalog of punk rock heavy-hitters such as A Wilhelm Scream, MxPx, Off With Their Heads, among many, many others, Wes Hoffman and Friends’ distinct blend of pop and skate punk make them a perfect fit for the lengthy resume Jump Start has already built.

“We seemed to have a similar mindset and perspective on things. We recently went on tour with Bad Planning who has been on Jump Start for a while, and they had nothing but good things to say. It all came together pretty organically and naturally”, wrote Hoffman. “After talking with the owner, Jeremy, and learning about the label’s ethos, I thought it would be a great fit for us.”

Not only is the St. Louis-based quintet signing to a label with a catalog full of “household names” around the punk community, but they’ll become labelmates with some of the bands’ largest influences who have put out some of their favorite releases. “Jump Start released MxPx’s ‘Plans Within Plans’ on vinyl in 2012. I listened to that album on repeat when it came out. I’ve been an MxPx fan for over 25 years, so they’ve been a huge influence on me as well as everyone else in the band”, wrote Hoffman. “A Wilhelm Scream has also released several albums on vinyl with Jump Start. I’ve always been a big fan of them, and we actually got to play with them last year. Belvedere is also one that played that brand of fast, technical skate punk.”

This signing comes just ahead of their debut full-length set to release in November. “How It Should Be” has everything a pop-punk or skate-punk fan could want, with elements familiar to fans of Belvedere and MxPx.

I couldn’t be happier seeing the hard work these guys have put in finally pay off. Although I’ve only been familiar with them for maybe 6 months, it’s been so cool following along with the shows they’ve been playing and the music they’ll soon be releasing. I made the short drive from Nashville up to Indianapolis last month to catch these guys live and, all I have to say is the only thing that outdid their live performance was how cool and friendly these dudes were.

Great things are sure to come as this should serve as both a healthy confidence booster and a great platform to expand their reach. Each member was able to share their own unique insight into what this personally meant, as well as how this benefits the continuing emergence of the group:

Johnny Wehner (Guitar) – “I never thought I’d play a show outside of St. Louis, so signing to a label means a lot to me. I am very excited to play more shows and to expose our music to a broader audience with the help of Jump Start!”

Hes Retnu (Drums) – “Partnerships are everything. I’m extremely excited to partner with Jump Start and earn the chance to amplify alongside the amazing roster of talent.”

Stephen Fee (Guitar) – “We love to write and play music and having Jump Start in our corner enables us to do more of what we love with a different level of support and focus. Turn it to 11!”

Jacob Boyd (Bass) – “Having Jump Start in our corner is incredibly validating and will definitely help our music reach an even bigger audience. I’m stoked for what the future holds.”

These guys have a ton in store for the coming months leading up to their release. If you aren’t familiar with Wes Hoffman and Friends, there’s all kinds of great stuff here to get the two of you acquainted: click here for the interview I had with Wes and bassist Jacob Boyd a few months back, catch WH&F at one of their Midwest dates listed below, or keep scrolling for the short email interview I had with the guys that details the journey leading up to their signing. As always, thanks for checking out the site, Cheers!

Shows!!!

3/31 – Kansas City, MO – miniBar*

4/1 – Lincoln, NE – 1867 Bar*

4/2 – Columbia, MO – The Social Room (early show, 5pm)*

4/28 – Cape Girardeau, MO – Blue Diamond#

4/29 – Springfield, MO – Rock Bottom#

5/19 – St. Louis, MO – The Heavy Anchor^

5/20 – St. Joseph, MO – Sk8bar (early show, 5pm) ^ 

5/21 – Denver, CO – Globe Hall^

* with Stay the Course and My Escape

# with Stay the Course

^ with Years Down

What does it mean to you as a band to be asked to sign with this label? 

We’re extremely excited to be a Jump Start band. For us, this is the start of a new era for our band. We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s truly an honor to be a part of the Jump Start roster and have our album be a part of their catalog. They’ve been around for over 25 years and done over 100 releases, so they’re a well-established label. We’re going to keep working hard: writing, touring, making connections, and adding more and more energy to our live show. The biggest change is that we now have support of an established label which we’re very thankful for.

Why do you feel Jump Start is a good fit for you guys? 

Jump Start has had some awesome releases and bands that seem to fit well with our sound. I absolutely loved the You Vandal album “Pretend I Don’t Exist” that came out last year. It was one of my most-listened to albums of 2022. After talking with the owner, Jeremy, and learning about the label’s ethos, I thought it would be a great fit for us. We seemed to have a similar mindset and perspective on things. We recently went on tour with Bad Planning who has been on Jump Start for a while, and they had nothing but good things to say as well. It all came together pretty organically and naturally which was also a sign to me that it would be a good fit. 

Are there any bands on this label that are particularly influential? 

Jump Start released MxPx’s “Plans Within Plans” on vinyl in 2012. I listened to that album on repeat when it came out. I was training for a half-marathon at the time, and would just let it play front to back. I’ve been an MxPx fan for over 25 years, so they’ve been a huge influence on me as well as everyone else in the band. A Wilhelm Scream has also released several albums on vinyl with Jump Start. I’ve always been a big fan of them, and we actually got to play with them last year. Belvedere is also one that played that brand of fast, technical skate punk. They’ve partnered with Jump Start on several releases too. Oddly enough, we have a show with them later this year too. It will be super cool to be a part of a label that’s worked with some of our favorite bands. 

How would you summarize this achievement based on the amount of hard work you guys put in to get to this point? 

Over the last year, up until now, we’ve worked very hard. I’m at a point in my life where I really want to put 100% into my songs, our shows, our releases, etc. We spent a lot of time on the road last year, and I spent a lot of time in the studio working on songs for our new album. We really put everything we had into this upcoming album and did multiple sessions to add little touches like tambourine, gang vocals, and have some friends play keys and sing on it. When we started talking to labels, I felt like we had put in the right amount of work to land on a good label, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s very cool to see the late nights in the studio and long drives pay off. 

I’d also love to hear about the process of how this occurred from start to finish, how long you’ve been talking with the label, stuff like that.

I had reached out to Jeremy from Jump Start in August 2022 after we had released our single and video for “Where Summer Never Ends.” That was the first single released from the new album, so I sent it to several labels and industry contacts. He had replied, said he liked the song, and we continued to talk about what a band-label relationship might look like. We checked in from time to time, but after I got the masters for the upcoming album, I sent them to him, we had a call, and decided to move forward in working with them.

Music is a very relationship-based industry. It takes a while to build those relationships and see how you vibe with people. I’m very thankful that this all came together very organically and naturally. It did feel like somewhat of a long process and at times, it was hard to be patient, but the patience eventually paid off. As I mentioned previously, I want to do everything right, and be as strategic and intentional with our goals as band as we possibly can. 

I want to thank Jeremy at Jump Start for taking a chance on us, and giving us the opportunity to put this record out. And thanks to all the people who have supported us, been to a show, bought merch, or told people about our band. It means more to us than you can imagine!! There’s more to come. The album should see a release in November of this year. 

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DS Interview: American Thrills’ Jamie Otfinoski and Jeff Wielk on Their First Full-length, Fest 20 and Limp Bizkit

American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of […]

American Thrills grabbed my attention about a year ago thanks to one of those pesky Instagram ads that everyone seems to despise. For once, I’m thankful one of those scrolled across my screen because it introduced me to another New England punk band to obsess over (and another possible candidate for my upper-arm collection of New England punk tattoos).

It was their Discount Casket EP that gave me a little taste of what these guys had to offer. The only problem was I was left craving more, something a full-length could only satisfy. Luckily, my cravings were satisfied after a relatively short wait, and when I say satisfied, I mean that these dudes released a fuckin’ ripper.

Their recent release Parted Ways hints at the familiar Northeast sounds of the Gaslight Anthem and the Menzingers (who coincidentally were competitors of the same time slot during Fest 20) that many have compared AT to, yet they play their own unique brand of punk rock that I was glad to see added to the always reputable Wiretap Records lineup, one I can always count on the turn out stellar under-the-radar artists.

It was truly a pleasure to shoot the shit with 50% of one of my recent favorite Limp Bizkit-loving bands. These dudes have put out two EPs and a full-length that are truly worth checking out. Parted Ways is linked below, followed by the awesome chat I had with Jamie and Jeff. Cheers!

(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sake because a good chunk of this interview was just three guys shooting the shit.)

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): Hey, it’s great to talk with you guys. I’ve followed you guys for quite a bit, I think right before Discount Casket came out. So yeah, I wanted to get started and talk to you guys obviously about the new record. Starting off, was this just like a collection of songs that you guys kind of built up and you’re just like ‘okay now we’ve got enough for a record’ or did you sit down with the end goal of like ‘let’s write enough stuff to release a full-length’?

Jamie Otfinoski: You know we wanted to write a full-length, but we did it kind of segmentally, we would do like chunks of songs and it was just a process. We would have demos we’d start to work on, then we’d jump to something else, then like come back to it. But ultimately the end goal was like ‘let’s put out a fuckin’ full length’. Because from my perspective, a lot of bands today do like single after single after single, and I get that because there’s like a method to the madness with like Spotify and all that shit, but at the end of the day like the bands I’m really into, like I’m into a record. I want a whole fuckin’ record and listen to a band to really get the vibe of the band.

Right, I get that. With you guys, you kind of released a single at a time leading up to the record, right, then you put out the whole thing?

Jamie: Yeah we did like four or five singles then we dropped like the last four songs all at once. And once again, that’s the whole thing with the internet, like Spotify and trying to build buzz, they want you to do singles. But ultimately we wanted to roll them into some sort of full-length so people could like sit down and check out our band with a little more than just like one song here and there.

So that was kind of a different approach from these previous eps you released?

Jamie: Yeah, you know we really wanted to, like we did two EPs, we’re like ‘we really wanna go all in and do a full-length’. And the guys at Wiretap were down to work with us on it which was totally rad and it made it that much more awesome. But we wanted to do something full and cohesive where we could do vinyl and finally put out like our first full-length record.

So what was the songwriting approach on this? Do you guys have one main songwriter or is it more of a team effort, what’s that look like?

Jamie: So Kurt, our vocalist/ guitarist, he kind of like, I wanna say he takes some of the reins. We always have a group text going and Kurt will like come up with a chunk of a song and go like ‘hey, check out this chorus?’. And then what we’ll do is we’ll get together and practice and we’ll kind of just like start playing it and rolling until we’re like ‘oh, that’s cool, what’s a cool verse to follow’ or vice versa. It’s like a collective approach, but somebody’s always bringing stuff to the table. Same thing with Paul, the other guitarist, he’ll have like a cool riff, he’ll lay it down and then we’ll turn that riff into a song. So it’s collective, but the two guitarists are kind of bringing the big chunks to practices.

So is there kind of a theme with this new record?

Jamie: You know, we’re like a bunch of old salty dudes that kind of like hate our hometown…

Jeff Wielk: I wouldn’t say hate…

Jamie: We don’t hate it, but you know, we don’t love it either. You know the record’s about like getting older, losing friends, losing family, you know just being disheartened by the people we kind of grew up with who maybe ended up turning out to be maybe not who we thought they would be. It’s just a theme of like get the hell out of our hometown, you know we’re old and salty.

Are you guys born and raised up there [in Connecticut]?

Jamie: Born and raised, yeah.

Jeff: Yeah all of us, we’re from the same hometown originally.

Jamie: You know up here in the North, we talk crap about our community, but ultimately, Connecticut’s not a bad place to grow up, kind of expensive I guess. But outside of that, it’s good people, it’s what we’re used to.

Jeff: We definitely could’ve grown up somewhere worse. New England’s got some great music.

Jamie: That’s the one thing about Connecticut too is like, the tours they come and they play in New York and then they skip Connecticut and play Boston. So we’re like right in the middle, you gotta either drive to New York or Boston to see the shows, nobody wants to play Connecticut.

So yeah, I wanted to talk now about specific tracks here. My favorite track off the record was “Ivy League Swing,” and I wanted to talk about what the songwriting for that looked like, the meaning behind it, some of its background.

Jeff: Paul, uh, wrote that initial riff in the beginning after the song starts with singing. And that first riff, that was like the first thing to come out for that song.

Jamie: That was one that Paul brought to the table and was like ‘I have this really cool guitar riff, let’s make it into a song’. We heard it and we were jazzed up on it and just kind of melded its way into that tune.

So this is more of a ‘me’ question, something I’m always curious about. What’s your guys’ songwriting look like, like how does it work; do you guys come up with like riffs first and then lyrics later, or I know some guys start with lyrics and then kind of build the song around it.  It’s something I’ve always struggled with, how to kind of progress through writing a song.

Jamie: It goes both ways; sometimes Kurt will come to the table with like some lyrics over a little riff or a chorus and then we’ll expand on it, where other times, like that song “Ivy League Swing,” Paul actually came with a riff. He’s the guitarist, he doesn’t put the vocals over it, so Kurt kind of took the riff, changed it a little bit, and was able to make it into a song, put lyrics over it. Yeah it actually goes both ways with us, but I’d say for the most part, like 75% of the time, Kurt will have like some part of the song that has some sort of vocal guitar part together and we’ll just build off of it.

Jeff: Yeah like the main hook or whatever…

Yeah like I said, I’ve kind of heard it both ways and I’m always curious with everybody I talk to, I like asking that.

Jeff: Yeah I think it’s mostly instrumental. I’m 90% sure that Kurt kind of comes up with the lyrics afterwards.

So yeah Ivy League Swing,” that’s my favorite track off the record. What about you guys, you guys have a favorite?

Jeff: Yeah, “Interpretation.” It’s just so different from what we normally do you know. Little bit different of a time signature, I don’t know. I’m like a mid-2000s emo-core kind of guy you know *laughs*

Jamie: I like “Sinking,” when we play live, it just starts off like fast and it’s got an interesting beat to it. It’s a quick little ripper. I like those songs live, they’re just fun to play because there’s so much energy.

You guys had that album release show the other night, what, at Stonebridge? Yeah how was that?

Jamie: Yeah a good old place in our hometown.

Jeff: It’s like a towny bar…

Yeah how was the reception there?

Jamie: It was awesome. Yeah we sold the place out, maybe like 150, 170 people. It was a blast. Andy from Hot Rod Circuit came out and he did an acoustic set. Split Coils played, which is Jay also from Hot Rod Circuit, they’re incredible. And this newer Connecticut band called Shortwave was just fuckin’ awesome. I mean it was really a great time seeing you know all the friends and just having all our buddies come out to see us play our hometown, it was just an awesome thing to be a part of.

Awesome, yeah. So I wanted to talk about Fest 20 a little bit. I was down there and it was actually my first Fest, wasn’t a bad Fest to start out on for my first one I guess.

Jeff: Yeah probably the best one yet.

How was your guys’ show down there?

Jeff: It was awesome, yeah. Super sick.

Jamie: The only downside was our set was right when the Menzingers were playing, which is like tough competition there. But all our buddies came out, we had a good showing, I mean it was fun. I like the smaller venues at Fest. Like I go to the big venues, like I go to Bo Diddley and I watch these bands, but I love seeing bands at like these smaller venues, like Loosey’s, and, where’d we play this year…

Jeff: Palomino, it was awesome.

Jamie: You like pack it out with a hundred people in there and it’s just awesome.

Yeah I think my favorite show from the entire thing was the Dopamines over at the Wooly. That was insane. Do you guys have a favorite set from Fest?

Jeff: This Fest I made it a point, I never even went to Bo Diddley. I never made it there this year. I made it a point to see like not big bands you know. So yeah, my favorite set, there’s this band, I wanna say they’re from Atlanta, and they’re called Seagulls. Dude that band was literally insane. And another set, they’re called You Vandal, they’re from Gainesville, their set was sick. They also did an AFI cover set.

Yeah I kind of agree with what you guys were saying about the smaller venue vibe, it kind of got overwhelming. Like here in Nashville, any of the punk shows, they’re all real intimate, not a lot of people there usually, they’re never sold out. So going to like Bo Diddley it’s a little overwhelming, like I’m seeing Avail but I’m all the way in the fuckin’ back, you know. But seeing like Dopamines, that’s more of what I’m used to. It was cool seeing these bands in these smaller venues that I’ve kind of idolized forever.

So then circling back to Wiretap, how’d you guys get on there, can you walk me through that a little bit?

Jamie: So you know, I’ve always liked a lot of the bands on there, like I’ve had a vinyl from like Spanish Love Songs and all these bands that I’ve followed and looked up to. And some newer bands too are on the label, American Television, some like kind of local guys that are just awesome. So we hit up Rob, we sent him something, we sent him like “Discount Casket” and he was like ‘hey, this is really cool, I wanna put this on …’ he does like a bimonthly charity comp towards like a good cause. He put that on one of his comps. And we were like ‘ oh cool, we’ll keep in touch.’ So then as we started kind of sitting down and putting tracks together for the full-length, we just hit him up again and we’re like ‘hey, we’re thinking about putting out a record, we’re gonna put it out hopefully before Fest. Are you interested?’. But Rob was really like gung-ho and down for it and got us rolling really early on. He was just a great guy to work with, I mean Wiretap has put out so many great releases and he’s so involved with like the scene and a lot of great charity efforts; he’s just overall a great dude in so many ways. So we’re happy to work with him and we’re lucky that we get the chance to put out a record with him.

Yeah I can’t remember when I realized you guys were on Wiretap, but I was happy to see you guys on there because they always have a real solid lineup, everybody on Wiretap I always love.

Jamie: Yeah it’s great.

So you mentioned the Menzingers down at Fest and your guys’ set times clashing, and when I first started listening to you guys, I immediately started getting Gaslight Anthem and Menzingers vibes. I think it was with Punk Rock Theory that they talked about sounding like GA also.  But coming from your point of view, what are your guys influences?

Jamie: We get a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, I don’t know, maybe Kurt’s vocals and kind of in that vein. You know, we were in like old school pop-punk bands in the early 2000s, you know we grew up on bands like Hot Rod Circuit, the Get-Up Kids, and kind of like that genre of bands. But more recently, I’ve personally listened to a lot of the Gaslight Anthem, the Menzingers, they all kind of fall into the mix too. So I like to think we’re somewhere in between like those bands and that original scene with all the like emo punky bands. Some sort of blend of the two, I hope, maybe.

So what about a tour, do you guys have anything planned coming up for promoting the record?

Jamie: We’re trying to get something together for the Spring. We have a show coming up, but we’re gonna kind of lay low for the Winter and the holidays. We have a show coming up in January with Teenage Halloween, one of the local bands up here. Awesome if you don’t know those guys, they’re from Jersey actually, incredible. And then we’re trying to get something together for the Spring, we’re talking to some of our buddies around here to do a few dates, but we’re just trying to get everything together, we don’t have anything set in stone quite yet.

So Jamie, you’re the surgeon right?

Jamie: Yeah.

So how do you juggle that with playing shows like that; how do you juggle having enough time with your band and with work because when I hear ‘surgeon’ you kind of think like 80-hour work weeks, crazy work times, no time off.

Jamie: When I was in residency doing all my training stuff, I wouldn’t be able to do what we do now. But now that I’m in private practice, I’m in a good group, I’m on reasonable call schedule. And they’re all supportive of what I do, they think it’s cool. But it is a balancing act with like trying to book shows and playing out around the call schedule. You know all of us are in like our mid-30s to late-30s, so we’re all like career, kids, jobs. So we get out there when we can, just little tours and runs, try to get down to Fest every year. But you know, I don’t see us going out for like a month on the road. We’re kind of weekend warriors at this point.

So a little off-topic, but let’s talk Limp Bizkit here *laughs*.

Jeff: Oh yeah that’s why we’re here!

In your Fest bio, you were called a Limp Bizkit cover band. Give me some background on that.

Jamie: You know *laughs*, we listen to Limp Bizkit. We grew up in the 90s…

Jeff: My first band was a straight-up nu metal band…

Jamie: Dude he was straight up playing Korn covers. You know like people shit all over these bands, we grew up on this stuff and we love this stuff, we embrace this stuff. As much as I like the Gaslight Anthem, I’ll spin a Limp Bizkit record too.

Jeff: Think about this, how many hardcore kids in the late 90s hated Slipknot, but those same hardcore kids now love Slipknot. Yeah I don’t know…

Jamie: With Limp Biskit it’s kind of like a funny thing, but we really like Limp Bizkit and people are just joking around like shitting on it. We listen to Limp Bizkit and we want everyone to know, we’re just trying to put that out there *laughs*.

Right that’s confidence right there *laughs*. Most people are too proud to admit it.

Jeff: Their newest record is fire man.

I’ve heard bits and pieces and it’s not bad. Well that about covers everything I think, I really wanted to hit hard on the new record, hopefully this can help promote it a little bit. We’ve actually been steadily seeing reader numbers rise since the relaunch, especially with that blink-182 thing a while back.

Jamie: Yeah Dying Scene used to be the shit man. Yeah back in the day it was like Absolute Punk, and then Punknews was always there, and then Dying Scene. They were like the three big ones. At least outside of like AP and all that shit I don’t really care about. All the bands I liked were on those sites, that’s where I was checking to find the new stuff. Glad you guys are back.

Yeah I appreciate you guys sitting down with me.

Jamie: Yeah thanks for reaching out and talking with us man, we appreciate it.

Jeff: Yeah thanks so much.

Take it easy guys, I’ll talk to you soon.

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DS Interview: Dave Hause on “Drive It Like It’s Stolen,” the Sing Us Home Festival, and much more in our lengthiest interview to date

I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but late April marked the official street release of Drive It Like It’s Stolen, Dave Hause’s sixth solo studio album. I say street release because anyone who ordered the physical album from him, whether in the States or abroad, got the album well in advance, meaning folks with […]

I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but late April marked the official street release of Drive It Like It’s Stolen, Dave Hause’s sixth solo studio album. I say street release because anyone who ordered the physical album from him, whether in the States or abroad, got the album well in advance, meaning folks with access to record players got to hear the album and fall in love with it well before their digital-only counterparts did the same. It’s not unlike how Pearl Jam released Vitalogy back in 1994, only that was a matter of the vinyl coming out maybe two weeks earlier not several months earlier, and that was also not a matter of Pearl Jam owning their own record label as Dave and his brother Tim do (Blood Harmony Records). But I digress…

I say “I’m not sure how it happened” because it seems like it wasn’t long ago that Dave and I caught up before a show at Boston’s House Of Blues, where he was slated to open for Flogging Molly later in the evening. It was the first real sit-down interview of my Dying Scene “career.” Back then, one of the topics of conversation was that he was about to rent a car and drive solo for the rest of that tour because he was experiencing a few stuck points in finishing the writing for the album that he was slated to record once that tour was over. It was an album – Devour – that would eventually cement Hause’s position as a bona fide solo artist and not just “Dave from The Loved Ones.”

And now here we are, more than a decade later. To say that Dave has grown and matured and progressed as both an artist and a human is to worldly understate things. Much of that growth and maturation has been laid bare over the course of the now half-dozen albums that form the Dave Hause solo oeuvre. Six albums is a long enough time into a career for an artist to have not only established themselves as a lasting artist but to have started to branch out and explore new stylistic and creative directions. Think 1372 Overton Park or Rubber Soul or Aladdin Sane or Nebraska or Highway 61 Revisited

If you’ve heard Drive It Like It’s Stolen at this point, you’re no doubt aware that Hause took the opportunity to lean into some new and different sounds and tones and textures, resulting in what is – at least musically – his most ambitious and artistic record to date. That is not only by design, we can probably expect more of it going forward. “There is a lot of new ground being covered, and there is a certain ferocity with which I’m trying to do that,” explains Hause. “I think going forward, I’m going to lean further into that. I’m not really looking to repeat myself.” While there were hints at newer musical directions on past records, some of the vigor that he applied to the writing process this time stemmed from a decision that his brother and longtime songwriting partner Tim made earlier in the year. While the brothers Hause had been a dynamic creative duo for closing in on a decade at that point – at least since parts of Dave’s 2017 release Bury Me In Philly – Tim decided it was time to put his own creative stamp under an album of his own. (Here’s our interview from back in January about that very release.)

Dave Hause press photo by Jesse DeFlorio

“Once he did that and made all of the creative decisions that needed to be made,” states the elder Hause, “he did that with a ferocity that didn’t so much have me in mind.” While they continued to remain co-writing partners, once the initial sting of not being involved in the studio when Tim went back to Nashville to work with Will Hoge on the album that would become TIM wore off – “I would never give myself the night off (like that)” Dave jokes – big brother was left with the realization that he, too, could exert a little more one-sided creative control over his own future projects.

It doesn’t take much more than one cursory listen through Drive It Like It’s Stolen to realize that while there are definitely some “Dave Hause songs” on it – that four-on-the-floor, punk-adjacent rock and roll thing that seems to be the core of his wheelhouse, there are more than a few curveballs (or sweepers or whatever we’re supposed to call off-speed pitches nowadays) in the mix. Perhaps the most jarring stylistic departure is the coda at the end of “lashingout.” The song deals with the uniquely American and primarily male phenomenon of creating physical chaos, escalating with the narrator expressing the school shooter-esque desire to play God and wreak havoc on those around you…set to a piece of music that transitions from finger-picked acoustic to distorted banjo to piano-driven Wild West saloon ragtime. “Everyone kind of looked at me like I was crazy” says Hause of the end of that song. “Everyone was like “What the fuck is he doing?” And then it worked. It clicked, and everyone was like “Oh this is so dark and so demented, and it adds a gravity to the song that wasn’t there before.”

At first listen, “lashingout” and its equally curiously-named “chainsaweyes” – the latter with its musical bed that consists of a synth loop and dark, haunting strings –  are two songs that are stylistically different enough that it would have been understandable to have left them to appear on a B-sides collection some Bandcamp Friday years from now. And there were a few other songs that, while not quite finished, certainly could have been rushed into completion once Hause arrived back at the studio in Nashville, and that may have resulted in an album that fits some preconceived notion of what a Dave Hause album sounds like. But Hause and Will Hoge – back for his third stint in the producer’s chair on a Hause family album –  decided that that which was not quite finished should remain that way, at least for now, as it probably pointed toward a different direction anyway, and it doesn’t makes sense to move on to what comes next if you haven’t yet finished what’s in front of you.

It’s a bit of an interesting needle to try to thread; leaning into whatever weirdness or different textures a song may need while being careful to not just be weird for the sake of being weird. “I don’t want to make reckless artistic decisions for the sake of recklessness, but I do want to be fearless in the way I go forward,” Hause explains, adding “I don’t want to do things in a self-destructive way, like “I’m going to make this super weird record to see if I can fool people!” It would be more “Hey, this is what I’m hearing in my head and I want to bring it to bear and surprise myself and surprise the people around me and give people what they didn’t know they needed.”

Those of us that exist in the center of the Venn diagram that has “pretend music critics” on one side and “actual music fans” on the other give artists like Hause props for making the music that he wants to create and not rolling out the same boilerplate album every couple of years. It’s an idea that’s not lost on Hause himself, albeit more than a tad self-depricatingly: “I may end up accidentally getting more credit than I deserve for that,” he jokes. “Like ‘Oh Dave just does whatever the fuck he wants‘ and that sort of thing. It’s like, no, I just don’t have any hits!” It’s a sentiment that’s also reflected in Drive It Like It’s Stolen’s penultimate track, “Tarnish”: “I found a golden goose here and I’m squeezing it for songs / I never got a golden record, I guess the melodies were wrong.” The song serves as a sort of love letter to his twin boys and the hope that as they grow and learn about some of their dad’s trials and tribulations, they don’t lose the glimmer and child-like adoration that kids should have for their old man.

“Tarnish” leads into Drive It Like Its Stolen‘s closing track “The Vulture,” combining for a brilliant – if incredibly heavy – one-two punch that closes out the album as a sort of micro-level companion to the macro-level post-apocalyptic openers of “Cheap Seats (New Years Day, NYC, 2042)” and “Pedal Down.” “The Vulture” deals with the harrowing realization that you may have passed on some of your own negative behaviors and conditions to your children and how best to help them succeed where you might not have. While Hause is a hopeful and positive type in person, he’s at his creative best when he’s grappling with some of the complex and pessimistic realities of American life circa present-day. “That’s the weird thing,” he explains. “I want joy in my music, I want celebration, I want those up moments to be represented, but that’s not what’s constantly on my mind as a person, so it’s a fight! It’s a fight to determine where you’re at, how stable you are, how steady you are, and that’s what comes out in the writing every now and again. In this instance, it’s really in there.” 

While the financial payout from having a bona fide hit or two in his arsenal would certainly help, what with a wife and four-year-old twin boys to consider, Hause seems more than happen to trade that financial windfall for an artistic one, particularly one that grapples with some weighty issues in a personal and yet fulfilling way. “I know friends of mine who are tempted (to continue chasing a particular sound after producing a hit). That’s not that appealing to me. The financial stability that would come along with having a couple of hits would be great. But what that does to an artistic career can be troublesome if you don’t handle it right.” 

The Brothers’ Hause started their own label, Blood Harmony Records, a handful of years ago. Not an offshoot or subsidiary of a larger, corporate behemoth; it’s their very own boutique if you will. As such, they’ve figured out a way to maximize the economic payout when someone buys an album or a t-shirt or a snowglobe bearing the family name. Hause is also quick to point out that the collection of fans he’s got in his corner – affectionately called the Rankers and/or the Rankers & Rotters in some corners of the interweb – make it not only possible, but play their own part in keeping the pedal down. “For whatever reason, maybe because it’s a smaller career, but I do think that the audience and I have been good to each other. I think everybody is kind of okay with going on the journey.” As a result, the Hauses have also figured out a way to maintain a fairly steady albeit intimate manner of touring that keeps the personal and professional lights on. “On the East Coast we can have a band, in Europe we can have a band, on the West Coast we can have a band, lots of other places we can just go Tim and I, or maybe Tim and me and Mark (Masefield) or something.” 

Hause and the Mermaid from Faces in Malden, MA, April 2023

That band, The Mermaid, has had a variety of interchangeable parts over the years, anchored by Dave and Tim Hause and generally longtime collaborator and fellow former East Coaster living in Southern California Kevin Conroy behind the drumkit. Hause emphatically calls the current iteration of The Mermaid, which features the multi-talented, multi-instrumental Mark Masefield on keys and sometimes accordion and whatever else the brothers throw into the mix, and bona fide songwriter in his own right Luke Preston on bass, “the best band I’ve ever played in,” and with them at his side, Dave and Tim decided this year would be the ideal time to bring idea that could very reasonably have been referred to as a pipe-dream-at-best into fruition: their very own music festival.

Taking its name from a song on Dave’s first solo record, 2011’s Resolutions, the first annual installment of the Sing Us Home Festival was held last month and marked a number of different milestones for the Hause brothers. After a successful Mermaid show at their hometown’s Union Transfer in April 2022, the brothers thought it would be a good idea to go bigger, in this case, to throw a two-day outdoor festival in their ancestral homeland, Philadelphia (Tim and his wife still live there, Dave moved to California a decade ago). But not in Center City or in the South Philly wasteland sporting complex area. Rather, they decided to have it in their old Lower Northwest neighborhood of Manayunk, a less-traveled, almost small town part of the big city on the banks of the Schuylkill River.

What could have been an admittedly hair-brained idea was taken seriously from the outset by the brothers’ manager, Alex Fang. “He was really excited about the idea and really saw the potential in it,” Hause explains, adding, “what that really means is you’re having meetings with the Manayunk Development Corporation and you’re meeting with the city and you’re filling out permits…the very unsexy stuff.” Unsexy, sure, but no doubt necessary if you’re trying to build an event from scratch in an area that isn’t used to having such events. “We wanted to put our stamp on the city, and we wanted to do it in our old neighborhood,” states Hause. “It takes over a year to make it happen, and if it rains, you’re fucked. If L & I (Department of Licensure and Inspections) shuts you down, you’re doomed. There’s just so much risk involved.” 

The risk paid off. By all accounts, the two-day festival which, in addition to Dave and Tim solo and with the Mermaid, featured appearances from Lydia Loveless, The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Kathleen Edwards, Catbite, Drive-By Truckers, and more. “We had a successful one…I didn’t move in with my dad afterwards!” he jokes. “Everyone from 3 years old to 83 years old had a great time. People just had a blast, and that’s such a joyful thing to know that we had a hand in. If it never happens again – which it will, we’re going to do it again (hold the dates of May 3-5 open on your 2024 calendars, comrades) – but if that was it, I feel like those are two days that I’ll remember for the rest of my life as being just spectacular.”

You can head below to read our most sprawling Q&A with Dave Hause to date. Lots of info about the new album and about Tim’s record and about the newest additions to The Mermaid and about Sing Us Home and about therapy and sobriety and his always-evolving roles as a husband and a parent. Do yourself a favor and pick up Drive It Like It’s Stolen here or at least hit the ol’ play button on the Spotify thingy below while you read!


The following has been edited and condensed and reformatted from two separate conversations for content and clarity’s sake.

Yes, really.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I was looking at my list recently, and it’s ten years now that we’ve been doing this.

Dave Hause: Terrific, man! That’s awesome. 

Drive It Like It’s Stolen is album number six. First off, congratulations. Second off, I totally ripped this off, but do you listen to Craig Finn’s podcast (That’s How I Remember It)?

I have heard it. I haven’t made it to every one, but I have listened to some of them. 

I certainly haven’t listened to all of them either, but I’ve listened to a bunch, and he just did a live episode to finish the second season…

Yeah, the one with The Hold Steady. I did hear that one.

Yeah! Their new record, The Price Of Progress, is their ninth record, so he asked everyone in the band what their favorite ninth record of all time was – and he had a list. So I thought, out of curiosity, I wonder what exists in that realm for sixth records…

Oh, good question!

So there are certainly a bunch that were way outside my wheelhouse so I didn’t write them down, but these are a combination of some big ones and then some of both of our overlapping musical tastes. R.E.M. – Green, which the hipsters say is like their last “good album.” White Stripes – Icky Thump. The Doors – L.A. Woman. The Cure’s The Head On The Door, and The Beatles Rubber Soul, which to me is an interesting one. Pearl Jam’s Binaural, The Hold Steady’s Teeth Dreams, and the Bouncing Souls’ Anchors Aweigh. So that’s where Drive It Like It’s Stolen falls in terms of career arc. Are any of those things that you listen to regularly now?

I’m familiar with all of those records, but the only theme that is scary that has emerged as you named them all is they are all precipice records. Certainly Rubber Soul gave way to a lot of really cool music. I love that period. I think everybody kind of loves that Rubber Soul and Revolver period. Icky Thump, I love that record. But I do think that for all of those records, you have most of those at maybe their artistic high points? After that, there is obviously tons of greatness that came from every one of them. But you also named all bands, right? 

That’s true, you’re right. No solo artists. And I think that’s because I accidentally skipped David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane. That was his sixth record and it was when he had killed off… 

Ziggy Stardust! 

Yes! And so also obviously a transition record for him. 

So maybe that’s the best theme from the ones you named is that they’re all transition records. Bands were sort of wrapping up a phase and moving into a new phase. But then, I’m not a band. And the way (Tim and I) create is peculiar. One thing for me is that I’ve embraced the peculiarities in my career. If you look at it more from the objective point of record-making, I made kind of five records – the Paint It Black record, two Loved Ones records and Resolutions and Devour – all in a ten-year period. And then I took a break. It was a three-and-a-half-year break. I moved to California and all that stuff, so there was a weird space in there. And then my record-making career resumed in 2017 and it hasn’t really stopped. It’s been between eighteen and twenty-four months ever since, and sometimes even less than that. There’s also a cover record in there. So I don’t know, those parallels to draw between other artists are fun, but I remember sitting down and doing this with Bury Me In Philly, and that’s part of what took me so long to finish it. I was looking at what other artists did with their third records. Those were big records for my heroes. That’s Damn The Torpedoes and Born To Run and all that kind of jazz. (But in some ways) that wasn’t my third record, it was my fifth because I had done the two Loved Ones records. So it’s all confusing. But I would say for those, the one thing that could be true is that this could be transitional. I think just in terms of bringing creative songs to bear, going from the germ of the idea, sussing it out, recording it, and then bringing it to people, I want to try significantly new things, and I think you can hear that on this record.

Oh definitely!

There is a lot of new ground being covered, and there is a certain ferocity with which I’m trying to do that. I think going forward, I’m going to lean further into that. I’m not really looking to repeat myself. I never really have, but I do think I’m just less and less concerned with like, okay, “do we have an up-tempo song? Do we have a quiet song?” Those little checklists that you sometimes find yourself making as you near the studio, I’m not making as many. I just don’t care as much. I’m more interested in what we’re going to etch onto the door, to mark where we are at that year. Because I plan to make a bunch more records. A lot of what’s going now is that I’ve made a bunch of records, depending on who you ask it’s six or eight or ten…and at that point, I kind of at least know how to get them done. I don’t necessarily know what I’m doing (*both laugh*), but I know how to get a record completed and then into people’s hands. Knowing that much is exciting and looking back and going “oh wow, we’ve done this much work!” – that emboldens me to do more work. If that’s any kind of suitable answer! (*both laugh*)

Dave and Tim from Faces in Malden, MA – 4/2023

Oh it definitely is, and I think it invites a bunch more questions! I think Tim tipped me off to you leaning into that new direction in the studio. I’m trying to remember the timeline, but it was either when he and I talked for his record or when he was here on that run with Will Hoge. He was like “Dave really went for it and embraced some weirdness in the studio this time.” He was super proud of you sort of trusting that instinct to go for it and to not worry about things so much. “Weird” is obviously oversimplifying things quite a bit, but did that come from the writing process in your home lab making music, or did that come from being in the studio and figuring out how to translate the songs as they started out into what ended up being on the record?

It’s interesting that you bring up Tim, because I think when he made his record, we hit another crossroads in our writing life, where he wanted to make a record of his own, and he went and did it without me to sort of avoid the shadow that I would cast on it. And then as he sort of rolled it out…

Not to interrupt, but was that a mutual idea or was that a Tim idea, and if it was a Tim idea, how did that land when he brought it up?

It was certainly his idea. I would never give myself the night off (*both laugh*). I would never opt to not be in the studio, but I did think it was wise. I thought it was an interesting choice. I mean, I wanted to go, but I also respected the decision and I thought “This will be interesting.” I think he was really just trying to distinguish himself, as you do when you make a record of your own. Once he did that and made all of the creative decisions that needed to be made from then on in, whether it was mixing or what it looks like, or deciding how it is going to come out, etc. etc., he did that with a ferocity that didn’t so much have me in mind, which I really liked. I found it a little bit peculiar because I felt like I had made a lot of room for Tim on Blood Harmony and Kick – not as much on Bury Me In Philly, but that was sort of his initial brush with record-making. Especially on Kick, it was really almost a duo presentation. We’re both in the pictures in the liner notes…

And the album just says “Hause” on the cover

Right! That was another thing we were toying with was a potential rebrand. Because he brought “The Ditch” to that record and that was a major song for it. And so, I was trying to make as much room for him as I could, and really at some points considering rebranding as a duo. And we did an interview with Benny (Horowitz) from Gaslight (Anthem) and he was sort of off-handedly suggesting “Why don’t you guys rebrand as a duo and only come out with the best ten songs that you guys write every time you want to make a record, and then you’ll have the strongest material?” I feel like that’s kind of what we were toying with in the first place, so to have him suggest it was a bit of a mirror. But, as he said it out loud, I thought “That’s a commercial decision.” That, again, is sort of not embracing what we actually have, and what we actually have is this strange, developing story. If people take a second and want to learn about it, it’s really cool and it’s enriching. It’s certainly enriched both of our lives. And we both like to write lots of songs, so why would we do less of that? I love Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan and people who make a lot of work. I don’t always follow all of it, but I like that they’re doing it. I like the act of creation, and I think for me, when (Tim) went and did (made his record), I thought “Well, that gives me license to do the same thing.” I don’t need to make AS MUCH room for him if we’re carving out a niche here for him on the record label and in terms of our presentation; there’s the Tim record, and there will be another Tim record.

So that was really an accidental giving tree. It was like, “Well, I’m not going to ask the question as much as I did before.” Like, when you’re singing a vocal and the producer says “Well, what is it that you want to say there? Are you sure about that?” I would often defer to Tim and ask what he thinks, or Tim would jump in with a syntax issue or an “I don’t really like that guitar tone.” It wasn’t always critical, but when it came to critical decisions, I would defer a lot. In this instance, I was like, “Well, you’ve got your record. (*both laugh*) I know what I’m doing and what I like to hear at least with my own songs, so I’m going to just make the call.” So I think in certain instances, like at the end of “lashingout” everyone kind of looked at me like I was crazy. When that saloon idea came about and that weird banjo, everyone was like “What the fuck is he doing?” And then it worked. It clicked, and everyone was like “Oh this is so dark and so demented, and it adds a gravity to the song that wasn’t there before.” So it was cool to take sort of full lead control again and then see it blossom into something new. Some of that is just recklessness from boredom (*both laugh*). I’ve made records where there was a simple, quiet song with finger-picked guitar. Lots of those. And it just wasn’t the reading that I wanted on that song, you know?

That’s a really interesting song, and we can talk about that more later. But man, that’s a really interesting song.

Thanks man! I think it wasn’t before it got that treatment and before it got that coda at the end, and I also was pretty reckless in terms of not being precious. Once you get six albums in, you’ve seen songs live and die, you’ve seen songs come back, you’ve seen songs that surprised you and that had lives of their own, that you didn’t think were going to be anything that would poke their head up. So I kind of was ready to delete certain songs or to rearrange the order, or just lean a little bit more into whatever the best artistic decision was. I was just looking for that, I wasn’t really looking for “what song is going to have the best commercial impact” or anything. I felt like a guy in a painting studio just painting whatever he wanted. 

Was that from the actual songwriting process before you went into the studio with Will, or was that like once you got in there and started playing around? Because you were only in the studio recording for what, a week or so? So I feel like a lot of that must have been hammered out ahead of time.

There was a lot, yeah. And there were a lot of songs. There are more songs that we didn’t even get into.

That’s always the case with you though, isn’t it? (*laughs*) I feel like every time we talk about a record you’re like “There’s this whole other EP that might never see the light of day…” 

It is, yeah! There was also this interesting thing that happened when I was showing Will the material. There were a couple of songs I hadn’t finished that I thought were really good starts, and I played I think two or three of them for him and I said “Well, I could finish these and they would maybe bump off these other ones I’m not sure about,” and he said, “well, you could, but those songs sound like whatever you’re going to do next.” Like, well, I could work hard over the next night or two and finish them up and he very wisely said that they have sort of a different disposition to them. Thematically, he thought “chainsaweyes” I had to do, and he thought “lashingout” was really good and I should put that on, and that the other ones were maybe really promising, but they weren’t done and that they were part of a different batch. When we had those ten or eleven that we initially recorded that each shared a theme and a vibe, then he thought I should run all the way down that road. Once I had that, I knew what the parameters were and we could just let each song have its own identity from a recording perspective.

There’s that thing in “lashingout” – yes, there’s sort of that saloon sound at the end, which is probably the biggest thing that catches peoples’ ears, but as much as I like to pretend I’m an audiophile sometimes, I usually tend to listen to music on my laptop while I’m at work. With the job I have now, I’m not in the car all the time, so I usually just throw it on when I’m at work. But I had headphones on the other day, and I hadn’t caught it probably the first hundred times I heard the song, but there’s that double-tracked vocal in the chorus, and one of them is almost whispered, and that changed the entire song when I finally heard it. It was really jarring A) because I felt dumb for not picking up on it the first hundred times, but B) it really changes the meaning and the tone of the song. That’s an evil sort of thing. The lead vocal is not sweet…that’s the wrong word…but it’s almost considerate. It’s almost like a therapist and you’re trying to talk to a child who might feel like lashing out…but then there’s this whisper voice inside your headphones going “do you feel like lashing out?” like it’s trying to talk you into it. That changed the entirety of the song for me.

That’s essentially the duality of how I view that statement. There’s a bit of a fear that those of us who are raising kids, are you going to raise the next school shooter? That’s a person that obviously at some point has something go really haywire, and I do think the adult urge at 40 to feel like lashing out is not where we want to be. When I’m around my European friends and I’m having dinner with them on tour, they don’t feel like lashing out. I think part of that is the way that their society is structured, and the values that have been cultivated. Whereas here in America, everyone has had their moments where they want to lash out. It’s a really frustrating place to live. That was a tweet of Laura Jane Grace’s, “I feel like lashing out.” And I texted her to see if I could write a song about that, because it was really the duality of it that I was tapped into. I wasn’t looking at it like “This would be a great chorus for a punk rock song.” I mean, partially, yeah, I feel that with her. I feel like lashing out. But I was also concerned about, like, why? Like, please don’t! I hope you don’t lash out and hurt someone or hurt someone else. As I age, there is that thing like “Well, we don’t want to be lashing out. Lashing out is how we got here, you know?” That’s what I’m working on in therapy, so yes I get that a person would be feeling that way, but also, hey, we need to work on that! We need to examine that! (*both laugh*) I think all of that is built into the song, because the song also didn’t have the coda. Once it had the coda on it, then I had a finished product, because I had “I want to be God for a day.” That’s further into the feeling of “I want to lash out.” It’s much more into that mentality, not only do I feel like lashing out, but I want to be God for a day. I want to reign down judgment and make things the way I want them to be. 

I think I’ve even heard you talk about it – I think you mentioned it when you were up here in Malden last month, about the sort of duality that exists in that song, but that was the first time I physically heard and felt it because of the way the two vocals are layered on top of each other. 

I’m surprised you didn’t hear it because I kept fighting to have it louder! (*both laugh*) I was like “Turn the whisper up so loud that it becomes a prominent thing!” 

Well and now it becomes a thing where every time I hear it I’m like “Oh my God, of course, it was right there the whole time.” Anyway, so you went back to Nashville and worked with Will again, but you worked with a whole different lineup this time. Was that by choice or by circumstance? You’ve got some cool people on this record too. That Jack Lawrence has been on some amazing records. 

Yeah, he has! It was by choice. We had more of a batch of songs based in American roots music on the last record, and we wanted to make an old-fashioned record where everyone plays together in a nice-sounding studio. It was incumbent upon him to put together that kind of a cast; a cast that would be able to knock it out. With this (record), I was less concerned with that because I was trying to make more of a layered statement. It wasn’t just “go in and cut in a really nice studio with the best players you can find.” It was, like, get what’s best for these songs by any means necessary. We compiled a lot of that on our own and then added people. It was also just me being more comfortable with how Nashville works and knowing that “I’m not worried about getting a trombone player, we’ll find one.” You can’t swing a cat without hitting some incredible musicians. So there’s a confidence in knowing that you can just make this be whatever it needs to be and you can find whoever the players that you need to do that based on the way that the songs are coming.

Whereas, I think for Blood Harmony, that was an exciting and fun way to do that record, based on how those songs felt. They felt more lush and family oriented so it made sense to cut them that way. For this, it was more that we left some stuff unfinished (going into the studio) and said well, we need some strings here, or we need 40 seconds of a band here, let’s find those people. We played the “live band” – in quotes – as almost another fader on the board. Some of that was by virtue of having built loops of my own and mapping things out, and then either rebuilding those loops in the studio or using some of those same loops in the songs you hear. It was just a different process, which, now that I’ve had this new chapter of Nashville recording – we’ve made three studio records and then we cut a bunch more songs there that may or may not see the light of day – but having worked that much there, you just get a feel for it and so it’ll be interesting to go forward from here just knowing more about how that process works. It’s good to have all these experiences and to allow them to kind of build on each other. 

You mentioned the sort of “live band” in quotes…sometimes on Blood Harmony, there were a lot of songs that could definitely be played either just you or you and Tim together, but there are some songs on this record that really sound like they were meant for the full band. The first two songs, “Cheap Seats” and “Pedal Down,” are not four-on-the-floor rock and roll songs, but they sound like they’re really built for a band. Does that become a thing you take into account when you are writing – what version of the Dave and Tim touring experience is going to be able to do the most justice to these songs? 

No, I just try to make whatever is most compelling and then worry about that stuff later. Hopefully, if we made a sturdy enough song, there’s a way to play it on an acoustic guitar or a piano that will translate. Sometimes we even beat those full-band rock versions. So, no I don’t really think about that. I may end up accidentally getting more credit than I deserve for that, like “Oh Dave just does whatever the fuck he wants” and that sort of thing. It’s like, “No, I just don’t have any hits.” (*both laugh*) If I had a couple hits, they would haunt me…

Because then you’d be trying to recreate them every time you make new music?

I would think that you’d naturally be tempted to, you know? I know friends of mine who are tempted. That’s not that appealing to me. I mean, the financial stability that would come along with having a couple of hits would be great. But what that does to an artistic career can be troublesome if you don’t handle it right. My mother-in-law paints. She just paints and paints and paints and paints. Some paintings sell and some sit on the shelf, and there’s not one that was clearly her best and that was selected by the Smithsonian or something and she has to beat that. It’s more like “Hey, I have a long life of painting.” That’s more of the artistic life that I’ve been given, so I think worrying about how to bring those songs to people is just not something I really worry about. Also, I think there are just too many songs now. So, like, if we’re pulling into a town to play, if we can’t play “Cheap Seats” that night because we don’t have a version ready or we don’t feel compelled by the version we have or we don’t have drums or a sampler or whatever would make the song work the way we did it, we’ll just play a different song. (*laughs*) So no, it’s not as much of a concern. 

Does having a wife and kids change that math a little bit? I mean, do you feel like you could go full Tom Waits’ Mule Variations when you have a wife and twins to think about? 

I think that’s the kind of thing that compels me! That’s the kind of inspiration that I’m drawing from as I move forward! That’s the bargain that you’re trying to strike up with the world. If there’s a record like that, a Mule Variations, and it doesn’t do what it did for him, where it got him a Grammy, and people don’t like it, I still feel like I’m going to be okay. I don’t think I’d be putting my kids or my wife at risk. Ultimately, I think that the conversation that I’m having with the audience would allow for that. Because I’m not playing that game, you know? I’m not doing that “am I on the radio” thing. I mean, we do that – we do push songs to radio, but it’s not what we live and die by. We own the record label, so people who take a shot on what we’re doing, we get the biggest economic impact from that, and then we tour in a way that is sustainable and smart for the places that we’re at. Like, on the East Coast we can have a band, in Europe we can have a band, on the West Coast we can have a band, lots of other places we can just go Tim and I, or maybe Tim and me and Mark (Masefield) or something. So I’m looking to push into those realms of pure creative inspiration, more than I am about worrying about my wife and kids, because I don’t think those things cancel each other out. 

So I guess the other side of that then is that if it doesn’t put your wife and kids at risk financially, maybe it puts dad at risk to not be doing the things he thinks are fulfilling creatively. Not to bridge into the therapy part of the conversation, but if dad is doing the things that he wants to be doing artistically, then maybe he’s less at risk of swan-diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, right? (*laughs*)

Yeah, I think so! I think it’s important to try to balance all of that. I mean, I don’t want to make reckless artistic decisions for the sake of recklessness, but I do want to be fearless in the way I go forward. That’s the needle I’m trying to thread. I don’t want to do things in a self-destructive way, like “I’m going to make this super weird record to see if I can fool people!” It wouldn’t be that. It would be more “Hey, this is what I’m hearing in my head and I want to bring it to bear and surprise myself and surprise the people around me and give people what they didn’t know they needed.”

So, I haven’t commented too much on the record yet because I wanted to wait until we talked, but even from the first listen on crappy laptop speakers, I thought that this was my favorite Dave Hause record since Devour, and you know the regard that I hold for that album. And I will tell you, that I’ve had a few conversations with friends who are also longtime fans of yours and they’ve sort of said that “it’s like a grown-up Devour.” And those weren’t people who know each other, necessarily. But I thought that was interesting. I think thematically the albums are worlds apart, except that there is a sort of processing thing that you’re doing on this record that you were also sort of doing with all that went into Devour. The stakes have changed now because you’ve got a wife and kids obviously, but some of that challenge and struggle is still there. Even though in the press for this album it talks about the sort of post-apocalyptic vibe to the album – and I understand that part of it – but it also seems like it’s really honest and personal. 

If you look at it now, there’s six (solo records). You can see that “well, Dave’s feeling pretty good on Resolutions” but then there’s Devour. (*both laugh*) And then “Oh, Dave moved to California for Bury Me In Philly and things are good!” and then “Oh, here comes Kick” That title is about the struggle of just trying to keep your head above water. The same thing happened with Blood Harmony and this one. They aren’t intended that way, I think there’s just a cycle of how I’m processing the world and sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m not, and on this one, I was not up! I was starting to feel kind of terrified about the world around me and what I was bringing my kids into, you know? The first couple years, I was just at home quiet with them, because we were all shut down. But in this eagerness to get back and keep the pedal down, all of a sudden we’re faced with a lot of those problems that have worsened since 2020. It’s definitely processing the world around. That’s the weird thing: I want joy in my music, I want celebration, I want those up moments to be represented, but that’s not what’s constantly on my mind as a person, so it’s a fight! It’s a fight to determine where you’re at, how stable you are, how steady you are, and that’s what comes out in the writing every now and again. In this instance, it’s really in there. 

“Pedal Down” specifically – first off, I love that song. I love the sonic build to that song. I think there’s something about that you can want joy and harmony and all those things and I think we should probably be striving for those things, but that last third of “Pedal Down” where’s the big full-band chorus…there’s something unifying about that. Even though the situation that’s laid out in the build-up to that is sort of bleak, I think there’s a collective thing that “it sucks for all of us right now, but we’re all doing it together.” 

Yeah, I think there’s an ambivalence to that. The “we can grieve it later, keep the pedal down” line isn’t just a negative thing, you know? It might seem that way and a lot of times I think that’s a terrible way to move forward. But there’s also a sort of “no way out but through” a lot of times, and maybe there is celebration in that. Like, we’ll grieve it later, keep the pedal down for now, let’s go. Let’s fucking go!

Exactly, it’s like keep your warpaint on, keep the pedal down, we’ll sort of get granular in looking back on it afterward but for now let’s keep fighting.

Right, yeah! That’s interesting. I think that definitely went into the subconscious of making a big mosh part at the end with trombones, you know? (*both laugh*) There’s something really big at the end and you have to at least have something in mind. I think in the previous song, “Cheap Seats,” there’s this nod to “American Girl,” when we’re off to the races with the rock band. There’s a celebration there too – “Take one last bite of this old rotten apple and ride off to the country with me.” That’s a little bit more deliberate of what you described, like “Alright, let’s start up the van and let’s get the fuck out of here!” I think that weaves its way in and out of the record and I guess a lot of my records if I’m forced to think about it. (*laugh*)

How often do you think about that, and is that a thing…I’m trying to figure out the best way to phrase it…but you’ve talked pretty openly in the past about being in therapy and whatnot; how often do you think your songwriting works its way into therapy, whether it’s because you are talking to your therapist or therapists about what you’re working on or what themes you seem to be coming back or a rut that you might be in that producing a certain kind of material. 

I would say it’s the other way around. Realizations and conversations from therapy make their way into songs, because I kind of view therapy as a mirror, you know? If you were going to try to do your own facial, you would try to get the best mirror that you can in order to do that. I think that’s the goal of therapy; find the best mirror that you can find in order to then do the work yourself. You have to do the work yourself…

How many mirrors have you had to go through before you realized it was working? Did you find the right therapist or the right sort of style the first time you tried it?

Yes and no. I’ve got a good guy, but also, my expectations for that guy were different when I walked in versus where they are now. I had these lofty expectations for him that were totally unfair, and I was looking more for an advisor or someone to tell me what to do. That’s not what therapy really is. So I had to learn that it’s what you put into it that you might get out of it. It’s peculiar. And part of that is being married to a therapist. If one of her clients had the attitude that I did going into it, I certainly wouldn’t think that was a fair expectation to have of my wife. Part of that helped. Like “We’ve got an hour here and I’ve got a full day booked, I’m not going to solve all of your problems, and it’s really not my job to solve all your problems. It’s my job to help you see them and guide you.” So I think the work you do both inside therapy and outside it that ends up hopefully informing the songs. 

How old were you when you started going to therapy and, I suppose in hindsight, how old do you wish you were when you started going? Like, now that you know what you know, do you wish you had started earlier? 

Maybe? I would say that the main regret with sobriety would be that I didn’t go (to therapy) right away. But I try not to look at things that way because you kinda only know what you know when you know it. I’ve had a good life, so it’s not like I can cite this spot where “Man, if I had only gone to therapy then, things would have turned out differently.” Maybe you could do that but I’m not so sure I’d want it any differently. But how old was I…it was years ago, but it wasn’t right when I got sober, and I wish I would have done that. I think when those wounds are really exposed and those nerves are raw, that’s a good time to start working on them and I should have started working on them then. I think it took me two or three more years to go into proper therapy. I got sober in 2015.

Right, that was that big tour with Rocky Votolato and Chris Farren. I feel like maybe we’ve had this conversation even back then, but did you view it as “getting sober” in quotes back then, or was it more of “let me see if I can do this without imbibing”?

Yeah, the goal was to try to do a tour without boozing and drugging. That was my initial goal. And that was a long tour. That was an eight-week run, so there was something about the length of it that even subconsciously I was like “I wonder if I can do this…” Then, like with a lot of things in my life, I sort of fell backwards into things, you know? Like “Let me try being sober for eight weeks and then if it’s working for me, I’ll keep going.” “Let me roadie for a popular band and if I like that lifestyle, I’ll continue.” (*both laugh*) The thing with sobriety is that the one thing I wonder about is that had I gone in sooner, would I be as black and white about it? Would I be “sober guy” where I don’t drink at all or do drugs at all, or would I have a more balanced take on it, which I think in my objective brain, I do. I can sort of see the benefit of psilocybin or THC or having a ballgame beer. I can make those distinctions intellectually and the reason I don’t go back to it is, like, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze. I’ve got four-year-olds, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a career, I don’t want to fuck things up.

But I do think that in terms of being a more balanced human, it would be great to have some of that in my life. Like, I don’t bang the drum for sobriety as much as some people do. Once you’ve been sober for a while, people come to you and say “Can we talk about this?” I usually say “Don’t do it unless you feel like you have to.” Like, if you can have balance and drink a glass of wine with your significant other at a wedding or whatever, do that. Don’t cut it out completely if you can help it, which is often a weird thing to say. I think if you’re in the program, that’s kind of forbidden. So ultimately, that would be my only therapeutic wish, is that I would have gotten to the sobriety stuff sooner when it was more acutely presenting itself.

There are people who talk about artists who either got sober or got “sane” or started therapy and taking medications and all that, and that their songwriting changed. Do you subscribe to that idea, that your songwriting changes or is better or worse when you’re on meds and in therapy versus not, or sober versus not? 

No, I don’t buy that, because I think it’s a discipline. I think you can find plenty of other instances in other types of writing…for example, for you to write a novel, it takes work. It takes sitting down and working at it. Over the course of how long it would take you to write a novel, you do have good days and bad days, mentally. You’d have days where you were hungover and days where you weren’t. You’d have days where you had a hold on your anxiety and days where you didn’t. And all of that would seep its way into your work. I just think that that’s part of writing. That’s the beauty of it. And I want it to change! Maybe that’s because there’s no big hit, where it’s like “Oh, I’ve got to get back to that mountaintop!” I’m still climbing the mountain. I’m not in that position where a lot of my peers are in the position where you know what they’re going to play last at a show. For whatever reason, maybe because it’s a smaller career, but I do think that the audience and I have been good to each other. I think everybody is kind of okay with going on the journey. There are certainly going to be nights where we end on a weird song or we don’t play some of the favorites. In that sense, I want the writing to change. I want to see what’s next and to see what Tim and I are capable of. I’m not looking for a former high or a former mountaintop that I’m trying to get back on.

That’s an interesting way to look at it, really. If you haven’t been on the mountaintop, you end up – not to make an addiction reference, but if you get that first high, you end up chasing it forever. If you don’t feel like you’ve reached the mountaintop, then you’re not chasing “it,” you’re just chasing what feels right at the time.

Yeah, and I’ve got to say, my hat goes off to a band like The Killers. They haven’t reached the heights of their first record, and I think of (Brandon Flowers) as someone who is still writing amazing, really compelling work. I think that’s rare. I think sometimes people fold up the tent if they can’t get back to a certain height again. That doesn’t appeal to me. I really like the act of creating. It’s where I’m most engaged and where I feel the best. That’s the feeling I’m chasing. I mean, it’s great when you put something out and people respond to it. That’s terrific. But it’s the act of bringing it into the world that’s so spectacular. That feeling of “Oh man, I really want to get this to people! I really want to get this recorded!” That’s the high, if there is one, that I’m chasing. You can get that every time you write a song.

Is it a different high when it’s a different type of song? Meaning that if you write a song like “Hazard Lights,” which has – maybe not a ‘classic Dave Hause sound’ because I don’t necessarily know what that means, but it sounds like thing that you do really well. That feel and that tempo and that style of song. It also might be the kind of song that the bulk of the listeners gravitate towards. So when you write a song like that, is it a different sort of high than when you write a song like “Cheap Seats” or “lashingout,” where at the end it’s like “Wow, this is really cool and really different and I can’t wait for people to hear it”?

That’s a great question. I don’t know! Maybe? Maybe it’s a little different? To answer your question honestly, it’s not lost on me that a song like “Damn Personal” or “Hazard Lights” sound like they would fit nicely in a Mermaid set. A Friday night Mermaid set in London or Boston, you know? I know that, but they weren’t intended that way. No, I guess to answer your question, getting that all done and having it all rhyme and feel good, THAT’s the feeling. Not that “Oh, I know we got one that the tried and true fans are going to love.” I wonder if the tried and true fans are going to love “Pedal Down” more BECAUSE it’s something different. But maybe this far in, I’m less concerned with all that stuff? Like, no matter what’s on there, I’m going to be anxious about bringing it into the market and I’m going to be excited. And so, the purest part of it is long before any of that. It’s when it’s Tim and I, and I’m like “This is done, let me play it for you,” or where we could play it for the band, or I can show it to another songwriter and have them go “Oh cool!” That is the purest part of the whole endeavor to me and the part of it that I’m most seeking, which is part of what’s funny talking to you now, because I have so little of that in my life now! (*both laugh*) Like, we finished this one and it just came out and we’re touring on it, and I don’t have a ton of song irons in the fire right now. I mean, I could. I guess I could look at the whiteboard full of ideas that I could pick at…

Yeah, that actually sounds sort of surprising given what I know of how you work. Every time I feel like I talk to you or Tim, it seems like there’s always this other thing cooking. I think when we talked for your last record, Tim was going in to record his, and then when I talked to Tim he mentioned “Dave’s got his next record all done!” so it seems sort of surprising that there aren’t that many irons in the fire.

Yeah, I mean I’m looking at maybe 10…well no, I guess it’s 15 unfinished songs. Some of those are the ones I was describing before. But we’ve just been in a different mode with the festival and getting the record out and touring. I’ve been so busy with all of that that I just haven’t had the clarity. Then when I get home from those endeavors, I try to spend as much time with the kids as possible. That’s its own potentially full-time job. (*both laugh*)

Or two of them. (*both laugh*)

Luke Preston at the Dave Hause and the Mermaid Show at Faces in Malden, MA – 4/2023

So “Hazard Lights” is another song I wanted to talk about, specifically, because you wrote that with Luke (Preston), the idea of co-writing with somebody who doesn’t share your last name. Walking through that process and how it was sort of stepping out of the comfort zone you’ve got working either by yourself or just you and Tim, and is that a different sort of vulnerability? Does it feel different presenting a song or an idea to someone else versus your normal comfort zone with Tim?

It predates that, is the preamble answer. In the whole pandemic thing, I think a lot of songwriters were willing to do other stuff because we were so worried about never playing again. So, I wrote a song with Fallon, I wrote two songs with Brian Koppleman, Dan Andriano and I were working on material. Somewhere in there, the song “Surfboard” had been started. Heather Morgan, who’s an amazing songwriter, a really successful songwriter in Nashville though I think she lives in Austin now. She’s written big country hits. She and I worked on “Surfboard,” and Tim and I had written with her in Nashville. We had a song called “Sunshine Blues” that we sat down and wrote with her when we were in Nashville in like 2018 or 2019. I was really nervous, because I only knew our process. I didn’t know shit about Nashville, I didn’t know shit about the songwriting world and that whole country music bubble. She was amazing, because we sat down, and she just did it very similarly to the way we did. And by that, I mean in her own incredible, indelible way. And she turned to Tim and I and was like “Why are you writing with me, you guys know what you’re doing?” (*both laugh*) She was like “You don’t need me, you guys are firing.” Some comment like that. And we were like “No! So much of this comes from what’s happening right here in the room, and your ideas are awesome!” We ended up with this song, and I don’t even know what happened to it, it’s on a hard drive somewhere.

But then in the pandemic, I called her and said “Heather, I loved writing with you, do you want to write some more?” I had “Surfboard” pretty far along. She ended up sort of like a backboard on that song. I wouldn’t have gotten as many of the points as I got on that song so to speak without having her being the person to help me get the ball in the hoop. (When we were writing), I was like “Is ‘dear Lord, I need a surfboard’ any good?” And she said “Yeah, it’s fucking awesome!” I said “Yeah, but it sounds like a joke” and she said “Yeah, but that’s funny. That’s good.” She really helped love it to life. She had a couple more or less pointers. So that had happened and it was heartening. She was encouraging on the first session, and then on “Surfboard” she just helped me love the work that Tim and I had done on it to life. So, there was another person who had entered the (songwriting) fray. I mean, I had written with The Loved Ones guys, I had written with the Paint It Black guys, I had written songs with the Souls. I had done all kinds of collaboration, but not much of it in the early parts of the solo career.

So it wasn’t that foreign, but the vulnerability you tapped into, that part of the question is a really good one, because if it hadn’t been a vulnerable situation with Luke, I don’t think that we would have gotten “Hazard Lights.” And then, once we had “Hazard Lights,” I was more open to co-writing. He helped write on “lashingout” too. The vulnerability was key because he was pretty freshly sober, and he was familiar enough with us and what I do. Maybe he was a Loved Ones fan, I forget exactly. But he was like “Hey, so I’m newly sober,” and I just kind of delved into that. That’s a really vulnerable way to start a songwriting session, and then we were off to the races. But here’s the funny thing: I’m so into that vulnerability and that exchange, and that I think the problem that I have with the whole songwriting thing in Nashville is that I can’t just leave it at the write. Like, Luke’s in our band now! We wrote a couple songs with Heather and I’ll probably always be like “Should Heather open these shows?!” I really like a long conversation with people. That sort of hit-and-run songwriting style is tough because I’ll want more from that person, because you do get so vulnerable if you do it right. 

It does seem like a weird process. I’ve talked to Will (Hoge) a little about that and Sammy Kay did some songwriting in LA for a while and I’ve picked his brain about that, but that whole process is so, so foreign. That you can write songs and just leave them, and sometimes they get picked up or sold to someone and sometimes they don’t but you just keep writing them, and they aren’t for you. It seems so foreign and I don’t want to waive the “punk rock” flag, but it seems so different than the way that punk rock works. I can get why, if you find someone that if you really drive with, you’d want to keep them around.

Yeah, exactly. That’s the thing: if you really assess The Mermaid, Luke is the main songwriter in the band. He doesn’t write on many of the songs for the band, but that’s his job. He writes dozens and dozens and dozens of songs. Tim and I write dozens, you know? 

Right!

He writes more songs, and gets paid to do so. But I think one of the things that he helped delineate for me – you start to pick up on some of these terms when you spend enough time around those Nashville people – but he was like “You guys are on the artist path. You’re in artist careers. For me to bite that off at any point is going to be a massive undertaking, because it involves touring and an aesthetic, and a point of view that’s really specific.” Once he sort of put it that way, I was like “Oh right…” I only know what I know. I know there’s Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift and Beyonce and Rancid and Bad Religion – I have my limited scope of what music-making is. And he’s like “For artists, yeah, if you’ve chosen the artist path. But there are people who just play keyboards and there are people who just play drums and there are people who write songs.” And so, in some ways, it’s even more vulnerable to be a songwriter, because you never get the release of performing the song. You’re in these acutely vulnerable situations and then you’re done, so you’re kind of like an actor in a sense. Actors have to tap into this really big reservoir of emotion for a concentrated period of time, and then they move on. It has a little bit of that one-night-stand feel to it. To me, it’s like the artistic or aesthetic cousin to a one-night-stand, and I think in that realm, I’m like “Oh wow…this feels weird!” So yeah, I loved writing with Luke. I look forward to writing with him more. And for me, for lack of a better word, being on the “artist path” for this long, I’m always looking for whatever is next, and for whatever will inspire and help me sculpt and deliver my point of view. Right now, with me being in the best band that I’ve ever been in, I’m super into tapping all of those guys for their input and seeing where that steers the songs in the next batch of creativity. 

This is really probably a question for Luke, but I would have to imagine that for him, to work on a song like “Hazard Lights” and then actually be in the band that gets to play it every night must be a little different than the sort of normal songwriter “thing,” and so maybe gives him a little more satisfaction getting to see it sung back at you every night. That’s gotta be a cool feeling.

Yeah, he has said as much! He’s pretty measured in how much he talks about all of that. A lot of it is just we’re having fun, and we’re talking shit “Did you hear this song? What about that production? Oh, that lyric is terrible! Holy shit, this is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!” A lot of that is what we’re usually talking about. But in those moments of introspection or reflection, he’s definitely said what you just said. He’s also helped my perspective. He goes out and plays bass or guitar with country artists and does that circuit a bit. He writes songs, and he hustles most of the different aspects of the music industry to stay paid. And he was like, “Well, from where I’m standing as kind of a mercenary, you’re living the dream!” I was kind of startled, because there are bigger artists that he plays with. He’ll play bass for some country artist that plays to like 5,000 people on a weekend at some festival. And he filled in a lot of the blanks for me, because he was like “Look, it’s cool to play to that many people, but everybody on that stage including the artist knows it’s fleeting. They may not be able to do that the following summer. You pull into a town and there’s a given amount of people at every show. It’s not the biggest thing, but it’s certainly not the smallest, and then you have these hot zones where you can play for a couple nights in Boston, you can play a fairly big rock show in Boston, or you can go to Europe! None of these artists that I play with can go to Europe. You have a worldwide conversation with a small audience that keeps you afloat. That’s the dream. If I could do that, I wouldn’t to any of the other shit!” (*both laugh*) I assumed that this was something that helped him make his annual fee or whatever, but he was like “No, I love this. This is the dream. And I also get it – I’m the bass player in your band, you’ve built an artist’s career.” So his perspective is really interesting, as is Mark’s. Mark is a guy who, at different points, has struggled to get out on the road with the same act and have it click despite being uber-talented and super eager and professional. Also, he’s voiced some of the same thing, that this is the dream. Like, “You play in London and lots of people come! This is your living and you play me a proper wage to come play keyboards. This is fucking awesome!” So having those two guys there and having their professionalism and their passion and their perspective has been really helpful to me. And just their creativity. There are so many good ideas that come from those guys, which has been true of Kevin the whole time, but now we have two newer guys that bring that to the table.

Did Mark maybe not catch on with somebody else because he brings too many shirts when he goes on tour? That was a riot.

The only thing that Mark’s got going against him is that everything is too much! (*both laugh*) There are too many shirts, there are too many ideas, too many keyboard notes. You just have to remind him “No, no, no Mark…less! Less! Benmont Tench!” And then he’s like “Oh yeah, okay!” 

Mark Masefield and Dave Hause probably talking about cricket lollipops

Yeah, he seems like he has a good sense of humour about that stuff, which you have to, because the road will eat you alive. 

Yeah, he’s great. We always say he’s the zestiest member of the band. He’s the first one up and ready to go out and he’s the last one to bed. We try to ride that zest as much as we can. He’s the guy that’s like “We can rent these bikes and we can drive around and we can take an architecture tour in the middle of the Chicago River and we can still be back in time for load-in.” And sometimes you’re like “Are you fucking crazy? I”m going to sit here on my phone until load-in.” But then there are other times where you take him up on it and you’re like “Wow, I just had the most fun day on tour that I’ve had in years.” He’s such a great add in that regard.

One of the reasons that I think Drive It Like It’s Stolen is my favorite post-Devour record (of yours) is how pitch-perfect some of the sentiment on the album is. You know my thoughts on Devour, and that “Autism Vaccine Blues” is one of the very few songs that I can vividly remember the very first time I heard it because of the effect that it had, and then as years go on and life progresses, it actually became even more poignant to me. We’ve talked about the one-two punch at the beginning of this album with “Cheap Seats” and “Pedal Down,” but I think the one-two punch at the end – “Tarnish” into “The Vulture” is just about perfect. How they support each other thematically – “Tarnish” with that idea that you hope your kids never lose the glimmer they have in their eyes for their dad, and then “The Vulture” being that thing that happens when you start to see some of your own tendencies and idiosyncrasies passed down to your kids and how sobering that is…as the parent of a teenager (*both laugh*) I can attest to seeing your kid and think “oh, I know exactly why she’s doing this, because I did it or still do it.” I think really though, that idea of flipping the hourglass on its head and dancing on the sand takes what is a heavy song and still makes it hopeful. Sort of like the turn that comes in “Bearing Down,” on Kick, where there’s eventually some hope and optimism in it by the end. 

Yeah, there’s a Father John Misty lyric from a few years back (“Pure Comedy”) where he basically lists the ails of mankind in a really articulate way. He gets into all of it; he gives you every reason to believe that we’re doomed and he intelligently and artfully does so. But at the end, there’s a simple and heart-breaking resolve that “but this is all we have.” It’s always helpful when somebody comes along and helps calcify what you were sort of getting at. That song did it. That sentiment that “Yeah, this is fucked up, but it’s all we have, so what are you gonna do?” I mean, “Bearing Down” gets into that from a much more fatalistic standpoint. But “The Vulture” is struggling, at that point, with having a three-year-old and the idea that none of this went away when I had kids, at least not entirely. But, on some level, I’m kind of out of options when it comes to hope. I HAVE to have hope. There are seeds of this in “Pray For Tucson,” with “They’re unaware of modern science/They may be wrong but I don’t care.” There’s a lot of that where you go “This thing is probably doomed…

However, maybe that’s just the way everybody has thought about it forever. And maybe it is!? So then, if that’s true, what are you going to do with that? Are you going to walk out into the ocean and drown, or are you going to dance on the sand with the people that you do have? Because there is joy to be had. There is fun to be had. There is wonderment. There’s Sing Us Home, you know? Pure elation for me, and so many people who were there. It was like “Wow, we did a thing that’s bigger than us! We’re all here having a great time and it’s a beautiful day!” So if you tap out, whether that’s suicidal ideation or just the slow, suicidal thing of just throwing in the towel, then you miss out on so much joy. I was convinced “Oh, I’m not going to have kids…” but then I had them and my life is so much richer. It’s so much more complicated and so much more terrifying at points. Like, you’ve got a teenager, I’ve got four-year-old twins, you’re constantly worried about them. It’s just part of the equation, you know? That’s the whole thing of “The Vulture” and the line “I’ll stay worried / You’ll stay worried.” Like, that’s probably just the way it’s going to be. But there’s also the idea that “I’ll stay worried THAT you’ll stay worried…

I was just going to say, that line is a huge double meaning.

Right! “I’ll stay worried THAT you’ll stay worried,” or “We’re both just going to stay worried.” (*Both laugh*) But at the end of it all, “row your leaky boat, life is just a dream.” Like, it’s over quick. Not in the sense of “Let’s live it up without any responsibility.” It’s not a bacchanal or whatever. But think about your family life and how much joy is in that. I think that’s what is swirling around “Tarnish” and “The Vulture.” Maybe looking at it like we’re all just doomed is silly; yeah there’s climate change and there’s all this worry and there’s war and there are all kinds of reasons to believe that things are going south or the ship is going down or whatever, but that’s A perspective. There’s different ways to frame it. I hope that my kids can frame it a little bit more like their mom does and less like I do.

I think part of what “The Vulture” does especially well is that it is mindful of how you maybe processed the world at one point and then if you start to see things in your children, who better to help them through than someone who has navigated those waters already. 

Maybe so, yeah. Maybe so. And it’s funny…we talked about the ferocity of creativity once Tim made his record and how much more I was like “Look, this is how it’s gotta go” on this one. But there was a question with that one, and that was at the end, what are we going to repeat, “Life is but a dream” on the way out? Or what I kinda wanted which was to go back to the vulture being in the tree. “Row row row your leaky boat /The vulture is in the tree” and Tim was like “No…No…it’s ‘Life is but a dream’.” And so live, I volley back and forth because I do think that is kind of the difference between Tim and I…I’m likely to say “row the leaky boat, the vulture is in the tree…death is coming” and he’s more likely to say “row the leaky boat, life is but a dream.” They’re different existential principles. I’m glad we left it in, but I’m glad I sometimes get the opportunity to change it live. 

I wonder if part of that is parenthood versus non-parenthood. I mean, obviously, Tim’s got nephews and nieces and whatever and so he’s not totally oblivious to the responsibilities and the weight of parenthood, but I wonder if some of that is having kids versus not having kids of your own. 

I would tend to argue that his perspective is the more healthy one.

Oh it definitely might be. Absolutely. 

You know, like, to bring the listener back at the end of the record to the idea that “the vulture is in the tree! They’re coming for you! They’re coming for your carcass!” is pretty dark. It’s pretty bleak. It’s a pretty bleak thing to say to your kids. To me, it’s kind of funny. But I do think it’s a little more hopeful to end on “life is but a dream.” It’s over so quick. Trying to hover above some of it and think of it like this ethereal thing is healthy sometime, as opposed to thinking “Oh, when is this going to end.” It’s a weird thing. But I like that song. I like playing it. It’s a weird one.

It is, and I love that. I think I’ve said this about most of the album at this point through our conversations, but I think that’s part of what I love about this record. Not that there haven’t been artistic high points since Devour, obviously, but I think it’s pitch-perfect for where we are right now, and you went for it. 

I think I’m at a point now where I can hear that and not be worried. I mean, there’s been times when I’ve put out records, and even talking to you and knowing how much Devour meant to you and how large that record loomed, because we recorded it in a fancy studio with all these amazing players and it was such a big step up. I was able to start headlining shows around then, and so it does loom large. But there are different people over time who feel that way about the other records. And part of that lesson is to just keep making stuff, because there will be records that really resonate with Jay Stone in 2013 or 2023 and then, there might be another song on another record that does that for you, or half a record, but the point is that everyone’s going to be tapping in and tapping out at different points, as I have done with a lot of artists who have put out a lot of work, and that’s cool. That’s what makes for a richness in the setlist, and it’s what makes the conversation fun.

I try to look at it more that way, versus looking at it like “Oh shit, am I trying to beat my last work?” Alex (Fang, the Hause’s manager) is really helpful in that regard too, because he helps remind me that this is a job. Like, I’ll tell him I was talking to such-and-such and they’re writing songs and they aren’t sure if this batch of songs is as good as whatever their major record was, and he’s like “you know, no one in I.T. does that. No one in insurance sales does that. No one in therapy does that. They don’t go “Oh man, that session that I did with that person struggling with depression in 2014, I wonder if that was my peak.” No one thinks about shit like that in regular jobs, so he’s like “Why would you? You’re just responding to an ecosystem that has to do with critics and what is the best and all that. Who cares what the best is, because the best is all subjective anyway, so keep making stuff!” 

Those songs that are a little weightier, do you ever get moments where your therapist wife or your therapist therapist hear something and say “Hey, you alright there, bud?” 

Bearing Down” was certainly something to discuss. 

I could see that. Do you discuss that before a person you’d be discussing it with has heard it? Like, “Hey, so there’s going to be this song and it’s pretty heavy so we should probably talk about this?” Or do you wait til they hear it and respond?

In the case of “Bearing Down,” I played that for Natasha. I was struggling with that, because we were having mixing issues on that record. We were having a big struggle until it went to Andrew Alekel. He mixed it beautifully and got it where I needed it to be. But that meant that I had to listen to that song a lot; a lot more than I would ordinarily listen to it. So I was listening and listening and listening and I think it was just wearing me out. It was a snapshot of a place I’ve been, but it’s not a place that I’m in every day. It started to wear a groove in me and I said “Man, I should probably play this for Tasha and at least just make her aware.” Because she’s asked at certain points “Where are we at with suicidal ideations? How much of that is in your history?”

Well yeah, I mean there are multiple references to swan diving off the Golden Gate Bridge, so…

Yeah! So it was a tender moment to play that for her, and she was like “I feel for you. That sucks that that’s part of what you’re wrestling against.” 

Did you play an album version of it for her or did you sit down with a guitar and play it for her?

I played the mix for her. 

That probably makes sense.

I rarely do that acoustic guitar thing and play stuff for her that way. I don’t know why. 

I feel like you can maybe be a little more objective about it when you’re listening to it on the stereo or on an iPhone versus if you’re actually physically playing it. Maybe that would make it a little too raw in that moment.

Yeah. This is also a weird thing that I don’t really think I’ve ever said in an interview, but I have a weird thing about sharing the work with Natasha in general. I think it might just stem from … I don’t know what it is. Because I also, in the same breath, believe the more vulnerable you are, the more successful your relationship will be. But I think at different points, I don’t know what exactly I’m looking for when I share a song with her. And I don’t think she knows what I’m looking for. So if I don’t know, I certainly don’t think she would know. Am I looking for affirmation? Am I looking for a bigger conversation about my interior emotional life? Like…what’s my goal? So as we’ve gotten older and we’ve gotten busier with the children and she’s gotten busier with her practice and stuff, I kind of just do my work and she hears it whenever she wants to. She’s complimentary about it, but I don’t need compliments from my wife. My wife is my teammate in life, she’s rooting for me no matter what record I make. So it’s a weird thing. Whereas, with Tim, he’s much more willing to sit down with a half-baked idea and play it for his wife and they’ll talk about it and have a whole big exchange on it. That’s where they’re at in life though. I was like that with Devour; I was sharing those songs with Natasha, but we had just met. We didn’t have kids and we were free as birds, so it was like “Hey, check this out!” I guess over time, I’m like “This is the work, I hope you like it, but I’m not going to change it if you don’t.” (*both laugh*) I don’t know. It’s a very peculiar thing to even admit or to interface with and then to say in an interview…

Well I mean at some level, a lot of us don’t do that anyway with whatever our jobs are, right? Like, at some point, the longer that you’re married and the longer you successfully keep your kids alive, the more your job becomes your “job” and you start to compartmentalize things. Just that you guys who are in the creative fields, whether it’s songwriting or screenwriting or book writing, the “job” in quotes is different, so the result might weigh different on the spouse than a therapy session would for Natasha, or getting somebody’s taxes done successfully because you’re a CPA or whatever.

That’s all true! The only wrinkle to that is that these are deeply meaningful things, and they are deeply emotionally intertwined with who I am as a person. It is tricky business. Did you see that Isbell documentary?

I haven’t yet, because I don’t have HBO.

There’s a lot of exchange about the creative process between the two of them as spouses and as songwriters that is SO bizarre to me. That’s not a critique of them; do whatever makes you happy in life. But it was so foreign to me. Like, they were arguing over participle tenses and things in the movie…

Yeah, she’s got a Masters in poetry, so she KNOWS that stuff.

So there’s this whole creative thing that causes friction in the movie. That’s not spoiling anything, that’s one of the driving conflicts in the movie. But it just seemed about as far from how we roll as a married couple. I don’t do that with her therapy, either, you know? Like, we will talk about work, and she’ll tell me about what’s going on, but I wouldn’t say “Well, you should this with that client instead.” Although I don’t have a degree in therapy, but either way. We have what’s currently working for us, and that’s that I write batches of songs and I record them and I work really hard on them and I put a lot of myself into them, and we sort of have this careful truce about how to share them. I’m like “Whenever you want to hear them, you can hear them,” but I’m not the guy with the guitar going “Hey look what I just made up!” Because I guess I just don’t trust what my intention is. Do I want to have this really beautiful woman tell me that I’m cool? Because that’s not useful to either of us. 

One can see where it would have been useful ten years ago when you were showing her Devour songs…

Yes! Yes, exactly! But that’s not the nature of where we’re at now. We’re teammates, and sure you want to impress her, but I think what would really impress her is if I did the fucking dishes. (*both laugh*) Or if I kept my cool when the boys are tantruming. She knows I can rhyme and come up with emotionally compelling ways to sing songs. She knows that already. And that’s also kind of a weird part of the job, like how much did this all start off when you’re craving affirmation and you’re craving attention. And now, I just try to be dignified in that, and not make that the whole point, you know? The goalposts are different. Let me make something that’s compelling and useful to people who are going through a difficult life. That’s different than “Hey look at me!!” There’s a more dignified way of doing it than a booze-soaked ego trip.

I just go back to this analogy over and over that there’s pure water running through a creek and a stream. Then it goes out to brackish water, and then it goes out to the sea. And Tim’s goal and my goal when we’re writing songs is to get as fresh water as we can and not taint it. The sea is the music industry, where there’s sharks and sharp coral and you can get sucked down. The brackish water is where you’re deciding how much touring you’re going to do and are you going to pay for a radio guy, is “Hazard Lights” going to go to Adult Contemporary radio or Rock radio? But that sort of includes mastering and what order you’re going to put the songs in. You’re in brackish water there. It’s not fully the ocean, but you’re not in real pure water. I try to think about it from that perspective. The goal is to keep it as pure as possible to the last possible second, and have as little brackish water as possible. Once it’s out in the sea, who knows. It might just float out, it might come back at you, who knows. There’s so little control that you have at that point. But what I’m kind of yearning for the older I get is to stay as close to the river as possible. The rest of that process is the job. You put the newsletter out and get them out to the fans to let them know what’s going on and keep the conversation going, but there is an element of commercialism to that. You have to keep the lights on. But even in that, you want to stay as close to that pure, creative force as possible. The job comes with learning to navigate the rest of the water. 

Even the festival you put on, you did it down by the river, not on the waterfront!

(*both laugh*) That’s right! We could have done it on the ocean! We even did that on the river!

Sing Us Home Festival – Year One

So speaking of the festival…obviously people know at this point that you put on Sing Us Home in Philadelphia a couple weekends ago. Where did that idea come from, and how far back was the seed planted to do something like that in Philly?

The germ of that was well over a year old. We started to conceive of it I think before we played our last Philly headline show at Union Transfer, and that was last April. How did it come to be? That’s such a long time ago…

Well, it sounds like an idea that you could be tossing around after a big headline show, like “Oh, this was fun, we should do a festival!” but that it’s something you could just say in passing and then it never goes anywhere because it seems like…

It’s such a behemoth, yeah! That’s where our manager Alex (Fang) comes into play. I think he took it seriously and I think he was really excited about the idea and really saw the potential in it. He started chasing it, and what that really means is you’re having meetings with the Manayunk Development Corporation and you’re meeting with the city and you’re filling out permits. The very unsexy stuff. It’s certainly not picking the lineup! (*both laugh*) That’s almost the last thing you do. I mean I was bugging him about the lineup the whole time, and he was like “Hey man, if we don’t get permits, your lineup could be awesome and it just won’t happen.” There are a lot of logistics, and I thankfully we partnered up with Rising Sun Presents, which was a new partnership for me. I’ve been working with R5 Productions for most of my career in Philly and they’re kind of the punks, you know? It all started in a church basement for them, and now they pretty much run Union Transfer and they have their reach and they do their thing. In this instance, Rising Sun work a little bit more out in the suburbs and they have a lot of history of putting on like the folk festival at different points, the Concerts Under The Star series and things like that, so they knew what they were doing in a different way for this. Alex and they were super pivotal in basically making our dream idea into a reality. And, you know, friends of ours do festivals. Frank Turner has a festival that he does and that we’ve played at. It’s incredible. It’s a different kind of model.

For us, it was like “We want to put our stamp on the city, and we want to do it in our old neighborhood.” I didn’t want to do it downtown. I knew of a place that I thought was super cool and worked with my friend who runs the record store that I used to buy my records at as a teenager. He’s still down there on Main Street, so he’s tied in with the business bureau and all that, so he helped us out. But all of that is inside baseball and boring. Ultimately it was this great idea that was put into practice by an incredible team. It was funny, Alex was getting emails from other managers when we announced it saying “Hey, thanks a lot…five different artists of mine have emailed me saying ‘hey, why don’t we do something like this?” (*both laugh*) I think the reason people don’t do things like this is that it’s so cumbersome. It takes over a year to make it happen, and if it rains, you’re fucked. If L & I (Department of Licensing and Inspections) shuts you down, you’re doomed. There’s just so much risk involved. And we had a successful one. I didn’t move in with my dad afterwards (*laughs*). It worked. And still, I see what could have gone wrong and it’s got me even more nervous for year two. Like it was amazing. So now we have proof of concept and we can do it again, which is cool. We also have our eyes a lot wider about what could go wrong, and those risks do worry you. But it was amazing, man. It’s very rare at 45 years old to have a career high-water mark, and that’s what we had. It was incredible. 

The venue that you did it at – the outdoor space there – was that a place that they normally do events or whatever? I didn’t necessarily get that sense. It’s not like you were just putting your event in a place where they do events and yours was just the one that week…

No. They’ve been desperately been trying to get that place on the map for events like this, and our guy at the Manayunk Development Corporation, which is the neighborhood entity down there, he said “You guys did in 48 hours what we couldn’t do in eight years.” They did one other event I think, a blues festival I think, but I don’t know what it looked like or what went wrong. Some people tried to tell me about that and I just blocked it out, because it just felt like bad mojo. But this was not bad. This was a family event. Everyone from 3 years old to 83 years old had a great time. People just had a blast, and that’s such a joyful thing to know that we had a hand in. It was great, man. If it never happens again – which it will, we’re going to do it again – but if that was it, I feel like those are two days that I’ll remember for the rest of my life as being just spectacular. 

Obviously you’ve been involved in the business side of the industry, especially with owning your own label, but does it give you a newfound sort of respect for things like ticket pricing and booking of opening acts and merch cuts and all of that stuff? It’s the inside baseball stuff like you said, except that that’s the gears that make the whole scene turn.

Totally! Absolutely! It definitely makes me simultaneously more willing to play other peoples’ festivals so that I could help (*both laugh*) and at the same time, it also makes me understand why in certain instances we don’t get invited to play. You really key into this idea that there are headliners and then there are direct support bands to a bill, and then there’s everybody else. Now, I don’t think this way because I’m sort of an old-school, kumbaya kind of guy, but you can see where people go “Oh, it’s just mix-and-match, you just make it work.” I don’t want that, and I think that’s kind of what set us apart, that we want to cultivate a specific type of experience. I wanted to make a festival that I wanted to go to, and I don’t really like going to festivals.

That’s a very good way to put it. 

It occurred to me that when we were kids, we had this May Fair in our neighborhood, and people would sell little toys and there was pizza and cotton candy and all that, and I LOVED IT. I looked forward to the May Fair every year. It probably just raised money for our Christian school or whatever, but I was talking about this with my sister and I said “We just threw our own little May Fair” (*both laugh*) and she just laughed and was like “Yeah, I think it’s a little different.” (*laughs*) But I wanted it to feel just as much or more like a family reunion than I do like Reading or Leads. I want it to feel like you know that we care about you, that we want you to have a good time, and that there’s plenty to eat and that there’s not too much music or too much of this or too much taking your money just because you decided to have kids here, you know? (*both laugh*) We don’t want it to be this crass, commercial thing. We want it to feel good, and to know that it did feels great. Alex is just getting back from his honeymoon, and I’m so excited to start talking about next year. I mean a lot of the shit is out of the way, like we have the signs, we have the website, we have the protocol, we have the permits. So much of the logistic stuff has already been done so to know that we can start to jump into the planning and the lineup is exciting. 

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DS Interview: Dr. Daryl Wilson on “Essential,” the first Bollweevils record in over a decade (and John Wick and Ayn Rand and Dragon Ball Z and more)

Friday, May 5th, marks the release of what may be realistically referred to as the longest awaited release in the baker’s-dozen-year history of your favorite little online punk rock website. (This one, obviously.) The album is called Essential, and it’s the latest release from beloved Chicago punkers The Bollweevils.  That’s the cover art up there. […]

Friday, May 5th, marks the release of what may be realistically referred to as the longest awaited release in the baker’s-dozen-year history of your favorite little online punk rock website. (This one, obviously.) The album is called Essential, and it’s the latest release from beloved Chicago punkers The Bollweevils


That’s the cover art up there. Fun, right? The album is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Not only is it the Bollweevils first full-length album in practically a generation (and definitely their first since Dying Scene has existed), it’s their first proper release on Red Scare Industries, and their first release mixed at the legendary Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Perhaps more importantly, however, it’s noteworthy in the way that it plants a battle flag that symbolizes that not only can some of the old guard, who have long-since moved past the days of trying to make a living solely from punk rock wages, can not only put out an album that’s super poignant and super energetic and super fun, they do so in a way that raises the bar for the younger bands that have been following in their collective wake.

Due to the way that both the music industry and the media technology sector have changed since the early days of the Bollweevils, we caught up with the band’s enigmatic frontman Daryl Wilson in the throes of what you can probably safely say is the first semblance of a press junket of his music career. When last Dr. Daryl and I spoke in the context of conducting an interview (watch it here if you missed it), it was that first summer of Covid and it was in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and it was through the lenses of Wilson’s roles not only as an emergency department physician but as a person of color living through probably the most public time of racial unrest that this country had seen since the 1960s. Thankfully, we’ve solved both coronavirus-related public health crises AND systemic racism in the almost three years since that conversation, so this time we could devote our energies to punk rock!

Check out our admittedly wide-ranging chat below. Plenty of insight on the recording of the album, the process of getting it mixed at the Blasting Room, the coolness of existing on Red Scare in the time of bands like No Trigger and Broadway Calls, the dynamite new material being put out by other long-time scene vets like Samiam and Bouncing Souls, avoiding the woulda, shoulda, couldas when looking at their legacy, and much more!

Surprisingly enough, the conversation below is condensed for content and clarity reasons.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how are you? It’s good to chat with you again!

Daryl Wilson: It’s been a minute, man, hasn’t it? I’m doing pretty good! It’s been a pretty interesting past three or four years to say the least, but I’ve come out on the other end still kicking! Getting older and I think a little bit wiser and I have a better worldview of things. The priority list is more tailored to true priorities. It’s kind of good. It’s refreshing to not have anxiety about stuff! (*both laugh*)

Does it feel like we’re officially on the other side at least of the pandemic part? I know some of the other social and political stuff we probably won’t be on the other side of for a long time, but does it seem like at least pandemic-wise, we’re just back to “normal,” whatever that means nowadays?

Yeah, I mean, lessons learned, right? That’s the natural progression of the disease process. The virus becomes less and less apt to kill its host. It becomes easy to spread, but it’s not really good for a virus to kill off its hosts, because then it doesn’t propagate. Coronaviruses do that anyway. The long-term immunity versus coronaviruses is so minuscule. Since antiquity people would get coronaviruses and they’d mutate so rapidly that you’d have lower conveyed immunity. It would spike and then it would drop and you’d get the same coronavirus a few months later. You might get the same coronavirus nine times in a year. They weren’t novel viruses. This was a novel virus, so it was something that our immune systems had never seen before, so of course the response was “oh my god!” Now we’re at a different point where there’s individuals vaccinated, natural immunity that’s occurred over time, the virus changing…we don’t know if there are any other long-term residual things yet. Finding out that, you know, exposure to Epstein-Barr virus might have lead to individuals having a propensity for MS is kind of crazy. We’ve learned that over time, and we don’t know what the long-term stuff will be with this. We don’t know if it’s affecting our T-cells in some way where we have a different long-term immunity to things. I’m not saying this for certain, I haven’t done research or studies on this, but is there some rationale where this is why we had such a bad set of viral illnesses in children during this past winter? Most kids getting RSV don’t get THAT sick, historically, but we had a bunch that got sick, so is there some issue with the way our immune systems have been affected by these bouts of Covid? I don’t know. I’m not saying that to start some controversy or “oh my god, this physician said…” (*both laugh*). Anything I say is not representing my hospital, this is just me talking. But human beings throughout all of our history and existence have come out on the other end of things that have been as bad as what we’ve (just) walked through. We’re a pretty scrappy species in some sense. To sit back and worry about “is this the end?” I mean…you’ve had people preaching on corners of streets from the times of Rome up to today where they’ve said “The End Is Nigh” and guess what? We’re still here! (*both laugh*) So let’s not put too much of a doom spin on everything and we’ll keep on kicking.

There’s a guy in the Boston area who I first encountered I think when I was a freshman in college. You’d see him outside sporting events and I know I saw him in Salem, Massachusetts, for Halloween because that’s what you do…and I remember him having this big sandwich board on it saying like “The End Is Nigh” and “Repent” and it had like a burning cross on it…and he’s still out there doing it, twenty-five-plus years later. It’s like…how “nigh” is it? (*both laugh*)

One day he’ll be right! (*both laugh*) And he’ll be able to say “see I told you so!” (*both laugh*) Let’s just spend all our time with that sandwich board on and continue preaching that until it happens. Why not just live your life? You’re already walking around dead with a sandwich board on. You’re not “living.” Just go live! In all reality, every day is your first or last day, right? You have no idea when the ticker over your head is going to go “TIME’S UP!” That should spur you on into “maybe I should just live as best as I can for today because I’m not guaranteed any moment. I could talk to you today, Jason, and that could be it! It’s always good to talk to someone that is cool and that you can talk to and say ‘this is a great connection,” and if this is the last conversation I ever have, let’s make it good, right? Why make it horrible? Why start your day with that sort of a horrible situation? Listen, I’m no sage, and I know I make situations really uncomfortable for people (*both laugh*) and I can be just a retch of a human being, but the good thing is, I woke up and I have an opportunity today to make up for that. That’s a good thing. I can try and do better. And that’s all you can do, right?

Okay so there’s no real natural segue here, but let’s bulldog into talking about the new record! It feels like it’s time. It’s obviously been a LONG time since the last Bollweevils record…

Fourteen years!

Yeah, and I think Dying Scene is officially thirteen years old, so I think this is the first Bollweevils release of the Dying Scene era!

Wow! Yeah, it’s been a long time. Nothing’s good or bad, it just is…and it’s 14 years now, and for me right now and the guys in the band – we’ve talked about it – it’s something that feels like it’s full. It feels like it’s something that took the time and it was the proper time to make it come out. There are probably a lot of reasons as to why it took so long. A part of it is that the band had some changes in members and we were in flux. We’d written some of these songs and we’d been playing them and we recorded a couple of them for a 7-inch for Underground Communique that came out – the Attack Scene 7-inch – and they were going to be on our next LP, which we thought was going to be out in the next three years after that 7-inch was put out. But no, that didn’t happen. We had members change prior to us even recording that. Our original bass player Bob had quit the band. We didn’t know for a while if we were going to be a band. That was the biggest question, “do we want to keep doing this?” And I think when we finally had the addition of Pete Mittler to the band as our bass player, that kind of made us who we are. I think we gelled, and we became The Bollweevils as we envisioned ourselves to be. It made it easier for us to buckle down and say “we need to put these songs out. We need to record these things, we need to have the new songs put out.” So we did! We finally got our schedules together, which is always a logistical nightmare! It is a whiteboard with so many pins in the wall with red yarn coming from all of these connections and somehow in the middle John Wick is there somehow! (*both laugh*) So it is a culmination of this ripening. We finally got the seeds planted and the tree grew and then fruit finally came from it. We had the right soil mixture with everybody as members of the band. The pandemic in some ways helped to kind of foster us pushing forward and doing this because we knew we might never get a chance to do something like this, so let’s get it done. And as we got older, the maturity of the band kind of seeps into it. We took our time – we had the time and we took our time instead of just “here’s what it is, we’re all done, one shot, let it play.” And so I think that it took a long time, but I think that it was warranted and it shows in the record. The record itself is so full and it’s one of the best things I think that we’ve ever put out.

Yeah, it’s really good! And I don’t just say that. It’s really good. 

Yes! And I think it’s good on so many different levels. Sonically – how it sounds – I’m getting chills just thinking about it, but it sounds really, really good! Then, it’s like, the songs themselves, you listen to them and you’re like “wow, that’s got a hook, that’s a catch!” and then you listen to the lyrics and you’re like “oh my god, these lyrics! Wow, you’re saying this right now?!?” It’s complex but simple, it says things in a concise manner, it’s not like you’re just gassing on forever. It’s really a good record! (*both laugh*) I don’t usually do that, I’m not one to talk it up and say “oh this is so great,” but it is! I think because we put in all the time, you can sense that when you listen to the record.

How long a process was the writing? It wasn’t written all in one batch, obviously. Like you said you had the 7-inch come out and other songs you’ve played live. But how regularly were you writing in the let’s say decade between the last album and the gears being in motion for this one to be finalized?

It’s funny, because there are songs that we didn’t record for this. We had ideas for songs that we were working on that didn’t make the cut, and I think that’s part of it. Sometimes you force it and try to make things work. Sometimes you can tell a band throws on a record just to put on there. We didn’t do that. We made sure we have quality instead of quantity. We could have a quantity of songs and riffs that Ken was writing that we would put something down for, but they just didn’t work. We were woking on them in rehearsal and we’d try to do them and they just didn’t feel right. These songs we did that felt right, we could work on them more and more. Even when we had them initially worked out, we kept working on them over the years before they were put out in this final iteration for the record. We were able to criticize each other and our performances, and that’s a thing that we couldn’t do in our early years.

Yeah, I was going to say, that’s a tough thing to do as a young band when there’s ego involved and whatever else. 

Absolutely! Everything’s personal. “Oh, you don’t like the way I’m singing this? I’m the singer! I’m the guy that writes the lyrics! Screw you, this is what it’s going to be!” That’s not the way to do it. We are a unit. I could take the criticism that Ken could say to me, or Pete or Pete would say. Like “we know what you should sound like on this, and I don’t like what you’re doing right now. It doesn’t sound complete.” And I’d be like “well, this is how I heard the song in my head, this is how I’m writing…” and they’d say “no, you can do better. Maybe change the cadence on that or that word seems wrong…” Or Ken would play a riff and Pete or I would say “can you change that riff a little bit?” It was definitely all of us collaborating together. We all have our roles in the band of what we do, but we can take what somebody said and say “we can do this better.” Playing the song live, you get to say “hey, that sounded okay, but maybe we can work on it a little bit more and make it sound better” and then we’d find nuanced things with the songs in rehearsals as we played them more and more. The ability for us to use constructive criticism and not destructive criticism like it used to be is a part that helped to make the sound sound so good. The mixing of it too…we had it mixed by Chris Beeble at The Blasting Room. That was due to Joe Principe. I gave him some of the demos early on – and in fact, it goes back further than that – when we actually presented the record to Red Scare and Toby had heard it and Brendan had heard it, Brendan came back and he said “I want to do your record, it’s great, but you know what? You’ve got to get this mixed again.” And Ken was like “Whaaaaat?” And Brendan said “it doesn’t sound like you. I remember seeing you guys when I was a kid and you guys were Chicago punk rock how it’s supposed to be, but this doesn’t sound like you’re supposed to sound. You’ve got to get it remixed.” And we were like “ooookay…that was a hit.” And Joe had kinda hinted at sending it to The Blasting Room, and I said “what, get it mixed where Rise Against gets their stuff done? We can’t afford that. We’re the Bollweevils, we’re working every day.” He hinted at it, but didn’t say “do it.” So we took a chance, we ponied up the money for it, and the mix came back and it was like “BOOM!” Beeble worked so closely with us on it, he was like “here’s what I need on this, here’s what’s going on…” He made it sound awesome!

You didn’t re-record anything after the initial thing was done, right?

No! I swear, I’ve said this before and I will say it again every time, the only person that can mix our stuff now is Chris Beeble. That is it. He knows us, he set the bar, he is the gold standard. So as it was mixed. Jeff Dean, who we recorded with here at the Echo Mill in Chicago, he also was really instrumental in forcing us to do things more than once. We’ve prided ourselves on coming in, laying it down, getting it done and getting out, but it was like “replay that again, replay that again, resing that again, do the lyrics this way, change that…” while we’re recording. It’s like “you’re killing us, man, there’s no way that we’re going to redo this multiple times.” I’d be like “this take was really good!” And he’d say “yeah, it was good, but it wasn’t great, do it again.” It was making sure that everything that we did was done to the best of our ability. That comes out on the record. I mean, you’ve heard it. What’s your favorite song on the record?

You know what? I made notes when I listened to the album the first time, which is a thing I try to still do a lot. Obviously “Liniment and Tonic” is great because that’s a super fun song, especially as a person who’s now in his mid-forties. It seems very appropriate. I really like “Galt’s Gulch.” That’s a cool song and it’s a little bit of a different song. I kept coming back to that in my notes. I like that sort of acoustic intro that builds and becomes this BIG sound. I like “Theme Song.” (*both laugh*) I like that “we are the Bollweevils” chant. It’s so fun and goofy and it’s very honest and self-deprecating too. I really appreciate that. “Bottomless Pit” is pretty cool. 

Which is a throwback, because we re-recorded that. It was on Stick Your Neck Out! and we initially thought that our masters for all of those records were gone. It turns out that they’re not, so we were thinking we could re-record some of those songs, because we want them to sound how we sound now. The iteration of who we are now is who we are as a band. This is the Bollweevils. This is who we’ve grown to be and this is our final form, or if you’re looking at a Dragon Ball Z our final Frieza or whatever. (*both laugh*) We definitely wanted to put these songs down as who we are now. We play our instruments better, I sing stronger than I did. It’s the old song, but it sounds new. We did that one and we did “Disrespected Peggy Sue.” We did them now because this is who we are. It’s not the old-school recordings. Sorry, I cut you off! I just think “Bottomless Pit” is a great song. Go on, I like hearing about your favorite songs from the record!

I really like the guitar riff from “Our Glass.” That’s a really cool song too. But I keep coming back to “Galt’s Gulch” if I had to pick. So let’s talk about that song a little more if we can. Where did that one come from? It’s a little bit of a different song from the rest of the album. I know you’ve played that live, but what is the origin of that song? How far back in the writing process?

That was one of the ones written back early in like post-2015. We’d been working on that one for a long time. Initially, that song was a song that Ken was persistent in bringing to rehearsal. We’d play it, and we wrote some stuff for it, and we were like “it’s okay…” and he was like “no, this song is great!” I just didn’t know what I was going to do for it, and what I was going to sing. I started thinking about some topics that I wanted to delve into. I read a bunch of stuff, I’d read a lot. In my days, I’ve read some Ayn Rand. I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The funny thing about those books is that they are works of fiction. (*both laugh*) To try to adopt objectivist viewpoints in some sense to live by is kind of counter to what humans do. I understand the idea of groupthink and the fear of what collectivism would be, but I don’t think of collectivism in that sense. I’m talking about trying to take a community and break a community apart. I think, yes, the idea of individuals existing and being an individual is super important. Individuals have skills that they can offer to a community to allow that community to continue to thrive. My skills as a physician are necessary to make sure the community can thrive because not everybody can do what I do. If somebody has the skill to make sure that water is clean so we can drink it, I can’t do that. I’m glad that there’s clean water that will allow me to go on. I think we have to live together as human beings and lift each other up so that we all can strive to survive against the elements and a universe that doesn’t really care about us. So individualism and being an individual is super important. I agree with that 1000%. In The Fountainhead, Roark being who Roark was and the individual that he was standing up against the idea that we all have to do things this way, that this is the only way you build buildings and all that, that is kind of horseshit. You’re going to be who you are. To have Toohey and those folks say “we’re going to slow you down and break you up and you all have to think the same way,” that’s horseshit too. But to take that into life, and to philosophically say “I’m not going to follow your rules because I’m going to be such an individual that I’m going to hunt on my own and kill things on my own and you have to do it your own way too.” Like, sometimes you need to help people. Maybe helping that person means helping the person that’s going to be the physician that saves you later on, because he can’t cultivate food on his own. So that’s why, I think, the whole idea of “who’s John Galt?” and everyone shrugging their shoulders and walking away and creating your own society that’s outside of society because “we’re all individuals and you guys are all drones so screw you,” that’s not the way we function. So if you just shrug your shoulders and go “who’s John Galt?” the world actually falls apart around you. It really does. Oh and Ayn Rand took handouts, we all know that and let’s not forget that! (*both laugh*)

Yeah, I remember Atlas Shrugged sort of blowing my mind as a ninth grader reading it and you think “oh yes, this is brilliant! It’s perfect!” And then you hit, like, senior year in high school and realize “oh, wait a minute…”

Right! You realize “oh, you know, some people are dependent! Children are dependent people, it’s okay!” 

Right!

So I wrote that as a perspective of the individual who’s like “I’m going to walk around and keep shrugging my shoulders and ignore everything and say “who’s John Galt?” That’s all I’m going to say to you! Understand what that means and walk away.” That’s just a horseshit excuse for not wanting to do anything, and not wanting to help. 

Wasn’t that around the time, too, that there was like a hedgefund guy that tried to start a Galt’s Gulch community somewhere, like some unincorporated area somewhere? 

Yes, there was! I remember that vaguely, yes! And where are they now? (*both laugh*)

Oh I’m pretty sure he got indicted and he’s in prison. It was essentially a Ponzi scheme and…honestly…like you couldn’t have seen that coming?

Haha, yeah! You know, I’m not trying to disparage if anyone has a belief that way, but I don’t think it is realistic to function that way in a community. In a society, it doesn’t work, and in a community, it doesn’t work. We have to work together to overcome things. Yeah, if somebody says “I want you to produce less in your company because I’m not doing really well so slow down to let me catch up,” you’re not going to do that. You’re going to say “no, I’m going to do this still, you had your opportunity…” and you help them understand how best practice works. But we live in a world of competition, right? That’s how we got about things. I mean, baking cakes is a competition for Christ’s sake. It gets really ridiculous. But, if it makes you strive to do better, sure! But if you’re just going to “give me all the answers to something!” I don’t believe that either. You can’t give everyone all the answers, but if someone doesn’t know for sure and I’m the expert, I’m going to say “yes, I’m here to help you out because you don’t know.” 

How long ago did you actually record the album, and have you still been writing since it was all sent off to Red Scare?

So let’s see. The total time recording, if you took that in days is probably like six days. That was in two sessions, like three days in each session, and that doesn’t include mixing and things, that’s just the recording part. It took us probably two years to get it all completed. It was during the pandemic that we did it all. In the early part, we got together and laid down these songs. If you’re talking about the whole recording process beforehand, a lot of these songs have been worked on since 2015 and up. And after that, yes, we’ve been writing other songs. Ken brought riffs to practice the other day and actually, our stand-in bass player Joe Mizzi brought some riffs too.

Oh nice! 

The idea is that were all supposed to bring a song. Now, I can’t play an instrument (*both laugh*) but we are in the process of trying to write other songs. We can’t just sit on this and “we’ve got it, we’ve hit the pinnacle, we’re done.” 

Well, you can. And bands do. There’s the very real thing of becoming a legacy band, particularly when it’s not everybody’s day job. Nobody’s making a living on The Bollweevils. Some bands do do that. You play a couple dozen shows a year in your best markets and be a legacy band. Sometimes you lose the drive to keep writing and coming up with no ideas, so to me it’s cool that not only is there a new album, but that you’re still writing more and those wheels are still turning. 

Yeah, there’s always something that spurs on the want to write. Whether it’s something that I’m dealing with in healthcare, whether it’s something you see because of the state of politics or the general miasma of people existing. Or something philosophical that you see pertains to day-to-day life. Sometimes that spurs on that creative juice. I could write lyrics all day but I don’t have the tune in my head that it goes to. And that’s hard. We don’t usually write that way. I don’t usually write lyrics and say “Hey Ken, write a riff for this.” Usually Ken is playing a riff and I have this idea what I should be singing to the riff. I may have a theme based upon something I’ve written at some point and I might have to modify my lyrics because that’s not really going to be, but the theme still exists for the song. So, Ken sent some riffs to me the other day, and I’ve been listening to them, and it’s like “okay, I can see where this goes.” And then I have lyrics, but sometimes that isn’t what the song is going to be about or the theme is going to change, so now that’s in the process of being fleshed out, and having that creative fire. There’s days where I just don’t have it. I’m just exhausted from a day with the kids or my wife and I are doing something, so I don’t have that. But then, I might wake up in the middle of the night and have this idea and have to write it down, so I have a pad of paper next to the bed and I have to write them down, or I use my phone to record a melody for something. We still have some things to work on, so it won’t be fourteen years before the next record! (*both laugh*)

Everybody says that, but then life happens…

I know! We said that back in 2015, like “oh, we have a new record coming out!” “Oh yeah? When’s it coming out?” “Well, some day!” Just like “The End Is Nigh” sign, right? We told you it was coming out! (*both laugh*)

One of the first interviews that I did for Dying Scene back in 2011 was with Sergie from Samiam about what was then the new record, Trips. And then maybe five years later, it was the fifth anniversary of that record and they’d been doing an album every five years or whatever, so I think I messaged Sergie like “must be new album time, right?” and he was just like “uh, no.” 

And finally, that new album is awesome!

It’s SO good.

It’s awesome. I was waiting for that to come out. I saw them at Fest, and they were playing the new songs and they sounded so good. Samiam is one of my favorite bands ever, and I just have that new record on repeat. I was just listening to it this morning again. I just love it. 

I’ve asked a bunch of people similar things, but thirty-ish years since Stick Your Neck Out, do you still have that same feeling when you put an album out? Do you get that same sort of feeling when May 5th comes and it’s now available to the world? 

I guess it’s been so long that I forgot what that feels like! (*both laugh*) 

Fair enough.

I guess it feels new to me. I’m excited about it because I can’t believe that I have this work of art that we put together and that’s going to be out in the world in less than a month. That’s crazy to me. It’s exciting. I guess the feeling I had previously was nervousness at some point when I was younger. Now, I don’t feel that anxiety. Listening to this and putting this record together and everything we did for it, it’s complete. It’s full, and I feel really proud of it. It’s really, really good. At least, I believe that, and the guys in the band believe that. Somebody else could think it’s complete garbage, and that’s their opinion, but I’m not worried about that. We put Stick Your Neck Out, and it was like “okay, this is us on Dr. Strange. We’re putting this record out and people will get it.” And they did. People still talk about it and say “oh that record’s awesome, you’re such an underrated band.” 

How does that land when people say that?

That we’re underrated?

Yeah, because I feel like I’m guilty of doing the same thing, but then I worry that it’s a backhanded compliment when we say “oh, you guys were great, you were my favorite band, you should have been huge!” 

I guess maybe? But it’s our own doing, right? I kind of limited us. We couldn’t do certain things. We had opportunities to, like, tour Japan, tour Europe, all these things, but I was in medical school. I was going to be a doctor. I limited our exposure. Could we have been bigger than that? Yeah, but it would be short-lived. We’re not paying the bills with punk rock. “Punk rock doesn’t pay the bills,” so says Milo. I mean, for them it does, but for the rest of us… (*both laugh*) I get to be a doc and play in a band. It’s still fulfilling in a visceral and spiritual way. Once again, it doesn’t pay the bills, but that’s not what this is about. I have a profession that does that, but I have these opportunities! I got to meet you and we became buddies through this world. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people that I would have never believed as a kid that I’d get the chance to meet. I’ve met some of my heroes. To meet some of the guys from Descendents. To go on tour with Dead Kennedys for a short run. To play with Bad Brains during Riot Fest. If you told me as a teenageer that “hey, you’re going to play a show with Bad Brains,” like…I would have told you you’ve been smoking ganja! (*both laugh*) But that happens. Those experiences are what brings about this existence and these life experiences. No matter whatever money you have and whatever material things you have, they’re all going to break. That’s kind of what “Our Glass” is about. The material things you have are going to break, but the real important things that you have and establish and the relationships with people and the places that you’ve been and the experiences you have, that’s going to be the things you have on your deathbed. Your big-screen TV isn’t going be there when you die. Your iPhone or whatever is not going to be there. Nothing material is going to matter. So, going back to the whole thing of it being a backhanded compliment of “hey, you were underrated,” it’s maybe a backhanded compliment, but it’s also kind of cool that when people hear that stuff, they go “man, you guys shoulda been…coulda been.” Yeah, maybe, but I was limiting us because of my professional choices. So back to the original question does it feel different or does it feel like it did releasing records before? No, it feels brand new to me because we haven’t done this in such a long time.

That’s really cool! I feel like there’s some buzz about it, and that’s not always the case when bands put out albums nowadays. It can be easy to get lost in the sauce, but I feel like there’s buzz around the new Bollweevils record. I can say that as a fan, that’s pretty fulfilling. Like “hey, people still care about this band I like!” Because you never REALLY know…

Right, and for some people it’s going to be their brand-new introduction to us.

As I said, the first Bollweevils record of the Dying Scene era, so it’s the first one we get to cover!

Yeah, and since we were underrated, we were under the radar, so some people didn’t see us or hear us, so it’s like “oh, that’s who they were! Now I can explore some of the old stuff!” I remember we did a thing in California seven or eight years ago, something like that, and I remember being on a radio show, on the phone, and I remember being told that someone had heard “Bottomless Pit” and said “yeah that’s a great song!” and they’d never heard it before. They said “that’s such a great song, it sounds like you just recorded it recently” and I was like yeah, I don’t think we had a sound that was dated. We were a 90s punk band, obviously, but I think our sound translates to today and to yesteryear. That was the greatest compliment to hear, that somebody had heard that and was blown away by it. I was like “yeah, that was recorded way back when, we were sloppy…” (*both laugh*) Now, hearing this record today, using that song from thirty years ago that we rerecorded and reimagined the way that it is, we’re like a whole different band, even though we’re the same band. So people will get to experience this for the first time as we are, and people who have experienced us before will experience us again and go “oh my god, look at them, they’re still out there doing this!” I’m being so prideful right now, it’s horrible. But it is a new experience for me. Though I’ve had the experience before, it feels like a new experience for me, and it’s really exciting. 

I think that one of the takeaways from the record, I feel like the older I’ve gotten and the greyer my beard has gotten, I’ve gotten away from some of the 90s punk rock thing. “Liniment and Tonic,” right? My back hurts, my knees hurt. (*both laugh*) I think that sometimes there can be a shelf life to a sound like that, but I think there are some moments on this record that eclipse all of that. It’s very much in the vein of a 90s punk rock record, but it sort of transcends that. 

Thank you! And we were talking about that as a band. At our core, we are a punk rock band. Whatever we write is going to be a Bollweevils song. And that’s one of the things that would happen sometimes. A criticism would come out that members of the band would say “that song that you wrote is good, but that’s not a Bollweevils song.” Some of those songs never saw the light of day. 

Is that because they’d be stylistically wrong? 

It wasn’t true to ourselves. It was like “just write what we know. Write our stuff and just play it and be done with it and don’t try to do something that’s not us.” It’s ridiculous when you’re trying to be something that you’re not. At the core, we’re still just a punk rock band from Chicago, and that’s what we’re going to play. I think that part of it too is that I don’t think we know how to play anything slow. That could be a problem in and of itself, because as you get older it’s harder to keep up in some sense. We pride ourselves in trying to keep up with what we do. Like, I worked out this morning. This is my trying to fight against the inevitability of entropy! (*both laugh*) We only know how to play like we play, so even if there’s a song that sounds almost kitsch, like “Liniment and Tonic” or “Theme,” it’s still us. You’re like “that’s still punk, it’s still hard. It’s got a hook, but it’s still them!” We pride ourselves in saying “there’s no reason for a song to be over two minutes and thirty seconds. It doesn’t make any sense. Why not just say your peace and be done. Hit them in the face and be done. Knock them out and be done with the fight. You can’t go twelve rounds, knock them out in three! Come on, Tyson, take them down!

In looking at my notes, I think the songs that we talked about as my favorite…

Are the longest ones! (*both laugh*) Well, sometimes you gotta box a little bit. Sometimes you gotta box a little bit. 

You gotta keep your arms down and let them tire themselves out, like Muhammed Ali, right? 

It’s all good! Exactly!

Is there fear in songs like that that they risk not being “Bollweevils songs” because they aren’t ninety seconds of four-on-the-floor, punch-you-in-the-throat “punk rock”?

No, I think if you even go back out to Stick Your Neck Out, “Failure of Bill Dozer” is a longer song and that’s a great song. We’ve added that back into our sets. That’s one of the songs that we brought back. That song is one of my favorite songs too. I don’t want to paint myself into a corner and say every song has to be a minute and thirty seconds or two minutes. Songs evolve into what they need to be, but they still have to be “us.” All the songs that are on there, if they are more than two minutes, it’s because that’s what the song had to be. They are still us. You can listen to them and say “wow, this is different, but that’s still a Bollweevils song.” It’s not like you listen to “Galt’s Gulch” and think, “wow, that’s weird.”

Yeah, I mean, it’s not a Rush song. 

Even “Our Glass” is different but it’s still us. It’s a Bollweevils song still. Somebody asked me once what I would say to younger me if I could go back in time, or to a younger band you’re playing with that asks what you do to have this longevity in punk rock, I say “just be yourself and do the things that you enjoy.” Play what you want to play. Don’t fall into some kind of trap where you have to trend it up or do something different. Play what you love. If you happen to write a record that’s some experimental noise thing and that’s who you want to be and that’s who you are, do that and be good with that. Make sure you’re good with it. With this record, with Essential, everything about it, we are so good with. That’s just the bottom line. No matter what anybody says about it, they can sit back and go “how do you feel about the record?” I think it’s great, and if you don’t, I wouldn’t do anything different. It would have been that way no matter what. It’s perfect for us. 

Are there people for whom you get nervous about what their feedback is going to be? People that you look up to as pillars, like the Descendents guys or whoever? 

Yeah, if they heard it and they said “that sounds great!” I’d think “well, I can die now!” 

Do you get back to that sort of childhood fanboy thing?

Oh god yeah! A person that makes me overly giddy and ridiculous and the worst punisher over is J. Robbins. I told him that recently. Denis Buckley, my good friend Denis, always reminds me that “dude, you punished him so hard when they came to Chicago way back in the day.” I couldn’t talk, I was stumbling and fumbling and J. Robbins was like “is he okay?” I couldn’t talk to him. I saw him at Riot Fest recently and I told him that and I said “I’m just letting you know, I fall apart when I see you. I do. I’m just such a fanboy of yours.” And he was like “no, it’s good, let’s take a picture.” And then he Friended me on Facebook and I was like “AHH!” (*both laugh*) But like, if the guys in (Naked) Raygun heard this and they were like “well this is horrible,” it would hit me a bit, but I would still have to just accept that, but I’d still think it’s good. I would take it to heart in some sense. If my best friend Paul says something sounds bad, I’d listen to those words. He can criticize me all the time, he does all the time anyway (*both laugh*) and I take his word. He actually was critical about some things when I was working on songs for this. But he loves the record, so that makes me think that it’s going to be good. Our friend CJ is a good friend of ours, and he would tell us if this sucked, and we would take his word to heart. But he’s like “this record is great, man. This record is great.” That makes us feel confident as well, but again, real confidence comes from within. If we didn’t feel like it was good…it’s done, we can’t change that, and we feel good about it. We feel really good about it. I think that is kind of pervasive with the buzz. People are hearing it and going “wow, this is good!” I’m glad that that is being reaffirmed in some senses. But yeah, if someone I idolized since I was a kid said this was trash, it might sting for a bit, but then again, you can’t please everyone, you know? An 80% is a B, so if I can get 80% of people to like it, that’s a passing grade. I’m still in the mix. I’m confident in (the record), I feel great about it. We put out the best that we could do right now…until the next thing comes out! 

It made me go “oh wow, I still like punk rock!” 

See Jason, that makes me feel good! 

I’m not going to try skateboarding, but I can still like punk rock! 

Then I’d see you in the hospital!

Hey, thanks for chatting. This was fun. Instead of doing it podcast-style like the last time we talked, the site is back up and running so I get to go back to pretending to be a writer. It was hard to be away from for a while, because if you don’t do it enough, that muscle atrophies. I’m sure that if you had gone fourteen full years without writing a song and then tried to jump back into it, that would be even worse.

Oh it’s definitely atrophy. It’d be ridiculous. It is one of those things where…think about the past three years of things that have happened, and the proliferation of bands having records come out. You’ve got the OFF! record, you’ve got the Samiam record out there, Drug Church’s record is out there…bands are just writing stuff that’s so good, and older bands are writing stuff that’s so good. We’ve had this time to think and reflect and meditate on our existences and what’s going on around us, and a few summers ago, the tragedies that would happen with the violence inflicted upon individuals, the unrest in the world, the upheaval of things and the change, and election season, and all of this stuff that swirls around you, and then realizing once again that we as human beings are going to survive this like we survived anything else. Plagues have happened, there’s been social upheaval before. All of these things have happened, we’ve seen these things before, and we’ve survived. That anxiety that comes with that, you have to find an outlet, and a lot of that is sitting down and writing out how you feel and writing about these things and getting rid of that. A part of that with this record, by the way, was that everybody had tragedies that they were having and anxieties that they were having and we all got to have this catharsis and put it out there and it came together. Art is emotional, and there’s a lot of emotion put into it, and when it comes out, you go “oh, this expresses exactly what I was concerned about.” Other people probably have the same feeling, and when art hits, it invokes an emotional response and people latch on to it and it makes you feel comfortable. I think that’s what this record has. You listen to it and you go “there’s something that’s hitting me about it that’s good. It’s hitting me right here.” 

And I think it does so in an interesting way. That’s a difficult needle to thread. Coming out of the last three years and being inspired by the last three years but without overtly talking about the last three years, and without making an album that’s overtly political and directly takes on the social upheaval and the political upheaval of the last three years. It’s an interesting needle to thread, to be able to do an album like that, that reinforces the good that came out of the last three years without being a constant, fist-shaking. There’s certainly a place for that…

That song “Resistance” is on there!

Right!

But the whole of the record is what it is…it’s a whole thing. Everything has a place and it all fits together. Not that it was written as a rock opera, but the songs do have almost a sense that they’re puzzle pieces that make up the whole as a piece of work.

I’m really excited for people to hear it. The fact that some of my favorite albums of this year are from people like Bollweevils, Samiam, Bouncing Souls…bands that have been staples for a long time and that are still putting out records that are so good. Sometimes, I try to step back from it and say “okay, do I like the new Souls record because it’s a new Souls record, or do I like it because it’s a really good record.” And it is a really good record. The new Samiam record, irrespective of if you’ve liked Samiam for years, is a really good record. 

Yes, that new Bouncing Souls record is so good! It’s awesome to see bands like us putting this stuff out there that’s so good. The time is just right. … It’s fun, I’m doing this whole circuit, I guess, of talking to people…

Did you do that twenty, thirty years ago? I mean the internet wasn’t what it is now, but…

It was a little internet, but ‘zines would come around here and there. But it wasn’t like this. This is probably the biggest media tour (for the Bollweevils) ever, and it’s easier to do because fo the internet. It’s really easy to do this. Rather than set up a time to have somebody come out and sit down…now I can do a couple phone things, do this, it’s cool. There are a lot of things to organize and fit into the “so open” schedule that I have (*both laugh*). (But) this whole experience has been amazing. There’s something really new about it, and it just feels exciting. It feels like there’s some kind of electricity around it, and it’s amazing. 

And I think with it coming out on Red Scare, Toby and Brendan have a pretty cool thing going on.

Yes! And Pouzza is coming up, and there are a bunch of Red Scare bands playing that. Like No Trigger…I’ve loved that band for the longest time. I love those guys. Broadway Calls is another one. They’ve got so many cool bands on there. We were the old school, OG guys on there now. It’s cool to be on a label with a lot of younger bands, some of whom had never seen us, some of us who had never heard of us, and we get to play with them and they’re like “how old are you guys again?” “Oh we’re in our fifties!” “What?! No way!” “Yeah, you young bucks better up your game, because we’re still coming for you!” (*both laugh*) It’s cool to be in this band and on this label. Toby and Brendan are really supportive and the bands on the label are just amazing. 

Yes! That new No Trigger record is so good. And it’s so weird, but it’s so awesome that they just kind of went for it.

It’s so cool. It’s not another Canyoneer. I love Canyoneer as a record, but they definitely let you know on this one that they can write a song that you’re going to have to think about, I’m letting you know about these fascists and everything else, and you’re going to be singing along with it. Tom (Rheault) from that band is such a smart guy and John is a grat guitar player. I love them, I really do. I was fanboying out about them when they came on the label. Thinking about this youth movement of bands, and how good they are, it makes me feel rejuvenated sometimes. I’m proud that we still can play and keep up with them and sometimes surpass some of them. I’m like “god, I can’t believe I can still do this at 52,” but then I look over and see Keith Morris and seeing Circle Jerks play and seeing OFF! play, it’s like..that’s who I want to be. That’s what I want to grow up to be. That’s amazing. Seeing Descendents, too, it’s like…that’s what I want to have. The longevity that these guys show is way inspiring. Keith though is totally inspiring. The Circle Jerks are amazing. OFF! is just awesome. They just bring it every day, and I want to do that when I’m sixty. Will I be in my mid-sixties doing this? Of course I will. 

Well, in fourteen years, for the next record…

(*both laugh*) Exactly!! 

We’re not going to get the folk punk record next time, huh?

No, it’ll still be hard and fast. I won’t be able to jump as high, but it’ll still be a part of the whole schtick. My knee will be in a brace, but here we go!

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DS Interview: Fire Sale’s Matt Riddle & Chris Swinney on Band Chemistry, Recording During the Pandemic & a Whole Lot More

Fire Sale can serve as the very definition for the term ‘supergroup’. Matt Riddle has cemented himself as a household name among even novice punk fans thanks to being a founding member of Face to Face, as well as playing with No Use for a Name, Implants, Pulley and 22 Jacks. Chris Swinney most notably […]

Fire Sale can serve as the very definition for the term ‘supergroup’. Matt Riddle has cemented himself as a household name among even novice punk fans thanks to being a founding member of Face to Face, as well as playing with No Use for a Name, Implants, Pulley and 22 Jacks. Chris Swinney most notably played guitar in The Ataris for close to 3 years, but also formed a band I happened across years ago called Chronic Chaos. Lead singer Pedro Aida (who as of writing this is on tour in Europe with Nathan Gray and the Iron Roses) currently plays with Ann Beretta and formerly played with Fun Size. And drummer Matt Morris has become well-known in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for his time playing with Darlington and Weaver Street. Not to mention cover art was done by Mark DeSalvo (NOFX‘s Heavy Petting Zoo, NUFAN’s Making Friends, Lagwagon’s Let’s Talk About Feelings, etc.) and recording was done at The Blasting Room with Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore. So basically, that extremely lengthy and unnecessarily long opening paragraph was all to emphasize the lengthy resumes these guys have built and just how much talent this band has.

And although, Swinney and Riddle are all for embracing the ‘supergroup’ title, as we later discuss, I think these guys have something that most groups, no matter members’ past resumes, struggle to find. These guys have a unique chemistry and one-of-a-kind sound that makes me ecstatic as to where these guys are headed.

In talking with Swinney and Riddle, it quickly emerged to me how complementary each member was to the other three during the songwriting process. Swinney and Riddle each brought they’re own brands of songwriting expertise, Swinney with a very technical grasp on songwriting and performing through going to school for music theory, while Riddle described having a more sloppy, punk rock-esque playing and writing style. Then add in the more pop-punk influenced Aida who writes perfectly melodic vocals, and Morris whose able to tie everything in with his hard-hitting yet perfectly executed percussion, and you have a band that should be given far more thought and consideration than the shallow term ‘supergroup’ often entails.

After talking with these guys, I can’t wait to hear what releases and show announcements come next (hint: we talk about that). It was an absolute pleasure talking to two guys who were members of bands that significantly shaped my childhood. Check out their newest EP A Fool’s Errand and keep up with these guys for soon-to-be-announced show dates and more new music.

(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sake because a good chunk of this interview was just three guys shooting the shit.)

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): I really appreciate you guys sitting down with me. Where are you guys calling from?

Chris Swinney: I am in Muncie, Indiana, and if you ask enough questions you’ll realize that we started this during the pandemic. We all live in different states so we do things a little differently than everybody else.

Matt Riddle: Yeah has band-demic already been used?

Swinney: I think I’ve seen it tag on Instagram.

Riddle: I’m not original anymore. There’s too many people.

Swinney: Yeah Muncie, Indiana and Moore, Oklahoma.

DS: So I wanted to start off with like how you guys originated. I know you said it was during Covid and I was reading an interview, Matt, you did with Punknormal Activity where you talk about you hadn’t met any of the guys. So I wanted to see how Fire Sale kind of came about?

Swinney: I’ll let you take that one Matt, I wanna hear your take on it.

Riddle: Oh, it was actually because I haven’t been really doing much musically after Tony [Sly] passed. I kind of dropped out of the scene a little bit or a lot. I didn’t wanna do it anymore, I was just kind of over it. I got sick too you know, so like touring is really hard for me and all that but I really like recording at home. So Chris got ahold of me and asked if I wanna be a guest on [That One Time On Tour Podcast]. I’m like sure, so we talked for like an hour, it’s really a good time and we didn’t really talk about much what I’m doing now musically, which is, at the time, nothing. I just had some songs I recorded you know through my Mac and I’m super like, budget when it comes to recording stuff, I don’t really care about it. And this guy Mikey, you know Mikey and his Uke, he asked me to do a NOFX song with, uh, oh God it was Roger from Less Than Jake. Yeah it was really good and then Chris [Swinney] wrote me not long after and said ‘dude, I didn’t know you were still playing’ and I’m like ‘well I kind of don’t’. He’s like ‘would you mind playing bass on some stuff’.

Swinney: Well, what I said was, I said ‘I’m gonna send you a couple songs’. I’ve haven’t written any songs in like 10 years. ‘I’m gonna send you a couple of songs and if you like them let me know what you think’ and then you’re like ‘dude, I’m gonna play on these fuckin’ songs!’

Riddle: Oh yeah.

Swinney: …and it blew my mind because, even though we’ve become like friends, you’re [Matt] like my favorite bass player ever; so well it blew me away because they were just like little shit songs that I wrote in my bedroom and I sent them to you and then all of a sudden now I have to start a band because Matt Riddle played on my fuckin’ songs. Yeah that was the catalyst for me because I was bored in the pandemic, I hadn’t worked for like however many months, and Matt and I had become decent friends. We met back in the late 90s on the road but he doesn’t remember that; I remember because I love what you do on the bass, I was just the fifth guitarist for The Ataris. You probably had no idea who I was; so now like in my mind when I was trying to find people from the podcast I was like ‘well I don’t really know Matt but I have friends that know Matt I can get his information’. Yeah once he was on the podcast we just got to be really good friends and we were like texting, and then I sent him the songs, and he played on the songs, and then in my mind I’m like ‘I haven’t done anything for so long because of the pandemic, how cool would it be if we started like a real band … and not like just doing covers and shit, but like really do it.’ So when Fire Sale kicked off, you know, we got our singer Pedro, who I’d worked with in the past. Tim, from Protest The Hero, was initially a big part of it, but when Protest started kicking back up, it had to take a back seat and it kind of made more sense anyway because the rest of us were kind of gelling and writing songs, and Tim was a big part of that at the beginning. But then he just didn’t have the time. We had a hard time finding a drummer, but when we finally found Matt Morris it took off there.

DS: So then, where did your guys’ name come from, Fire Sale?

Swinney: So, *laughs* I don’t think Matt’s ever really liked it, and that’s cool, I mean I don’t think it’s like the best name ever.

Riddle: Wasn’t it originally Southern Gothic or something?

Swinney: Yeah Pedro and I had done a collaboration, the song that we have online right now called “Long Overdue”, that was a song that I wrote and I programmed the drums, and it was just like this goofy thing I was doing on the podcast and Pedro sang on that. That’s how Pedro and I came to be close and we needed a song for a compilation after we released our first two songs and we didn’t have time to like write something and get it going. So I was like, you know, let’s just use that and I’ll have Matt play bass on it, Pedro could redo the vocals because he wasn’t happy with the first take, and then we’ll have Tim play on it too and that song, the project was called Southern Gothic. But I didn’t wanna use that because I’d already kind of used it for a goofy side project, so we’ve actually got a song called Southern Gothic that’s still not done yet; it’s a little bit more poppier kind of, that should come out at some point. But yeah, the name Fire Sale. I got to be fairly close with Sam King from Get Dead, he’s been on the program a few times. The night I was trying to think of names, I had like nine, ten names written on a piece of paper; like the band was kind of gelling, we were figuring out what we were gonna do and they [Get Dead] had just dropped their new video for their song called ‘Fire Sale’. And I was watching, I saw something on some punk site about it and I was checking it out, the songs really cool and I was like ‘Fire Sale, that’s a cool name I wonder if there’s any bands named Fire Sale.’ And there was one band from like 2008 that played one show somewhere in Kansas, they were like teenagers and they hadn’t done anything in forever; so I’m like ‘fuck it, I’m picking that name’ and I told everybody and it’s not the best name but no band name is. You [Matt] were in a band called No Use for a Name.

Riddle: …and Pulley

Swinney: I mean Face to Face is a cool ass name man.

Riddle: That was actually from our guitar player at the time, Mark, he came up with it. He said like ‘vis a vis’ which I think is a rough translation.

Swinney: But that was the thing with the name, I mean on some of the like press when we first came out it talked about that and yeah I’m not gonna say it had much to do with Get Dead, it’s just the fact that I was watching their video and I’m kind of friends with Sam. And I was like ‘well that’s a cool name’, so that night I got all the socials for @firesaleisaband, because fire sale’s like a clothing company so you can’t just have @firesale.

Riddle: Isn’t a fire sale like everything must go kind of thing?

Swinney: Yeah it’s like if you’re going out of business and you need to get rid of everything, they call it a fire sale.

Riddle: I only know fire sale from Davis Cross from Arrested Development, *laughs*.

Swinney: So yeah, I just thought it was kind of cool because my favorite names, they mean a couple different things, like if nobody knows what fire sale actually is, it sounds kind of dark or ominous. But it’s not dark or ominous, and I remember Matt at one point, he had this picture of a burning ship. He wanted it to be like Fire Sail, and for a while we were thinking about that.

Riddle: Yeah for a while we were thinking about even changing the name but I kind of dig it and its grown on me. I don’t know, it’s hard to pick a name man, I mean in this day and age it’s just it’s really fuckin’ hard.

DS: It was funny actually this week I’m in this band, we actually have a group message and one of the guys has been sending you guys’ singles I hadn’t heard you guys. Then I saw he posted something where it’s like ‘super group’ and I’m like ‘oh damn, I gotta start listening these guys’.

Swinney: We’ve been leaning pretty hard into that, like I felt weird about it at first, but the label that we’re with now, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, he was kinda like, we had this meeting and he’s like ‘well listen you, guys have all been in bigger bands, you know you guys should lean into what’s gonna get people to check you out, your past resumes.’ That’s why we decided to go with Mark DeSalvo and the artwork.

DS: So, it sounds like you’re kind of embracing the term ‘super group’ because I’ve kind of seen that label thrown around quite a bit with you guys.

Swinney: We don’t claim to be a supergroup, but I don’t mind people saying it because it gets people in the door you know.

DS: Yeah so moving on kind of to songwriting, is there one main songwriter or with all of you guys coming in from different groups and different backgrounds, is everybody kind of contributing?

Swinney: We’ll kind of both take that one. I’ll give my thoughts and I’ll let Matt speak on it. The first couple songs, it was like I would just send complete songs to Matt and Pedro and it would go that way. Now it’s got to be a lot more collaborative, like I’ll still send full songs that I write, but Matt’s sending full songs that he writes and then I’ll redo the guitars and maybe have an idea here or there. Like that solo on “A Fool’s Errand’,”I kind of mimicked what you did with the horns on there. But it’s become a real collaborative thing, writing with Matt and kind of going through and really producing it you know, just talking over Zoom or FaceTime. There was one part on the second verse of “A Fool’s Errand” we just couldn’t figure out the sound that we wanted because the first verse just has big chords and then the second verse we wanted this like 70s drony kind of sound. There was a single note and then they flew on top and, I swear to God, it was like a month or two before we finally got it.

Riddle: It was one of those things where, so you know the bassline that is pretty gnarly, it’s like a banjo. Well I kept that through like both verses all the time and I wanted the second verse to be brought way back but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. And me and Chris went back and forth for like a month like what the fuck are we doing wrong?

Swinney: I recorded literally like 40 guitar parts over that verse.

Riddle: Yeah it ended up all we needed to do is let the bass just stay on one note the whole time, the guitars stay the same and that’s exactly what we needed. It’s so stupid, it’s so simple.

Swinney: But see the songwriting thing you were asking about, yeah I’ve always had a collaborator, no matter what. Like when I was in the Ataris some of the songs we did Roe and I would mess with stuff. In any band I’ve ever been in, I’ve never been the guy like ‘here’s all the stuff’. It’s always been like back and forth. At the beginning, I felt like it was like ‘hey Matt, here’s something I wrote, play whatever you want on it.’ And it’s still sometimes it’s like that because we all have ideas. But working with Matt and tearing these songs apart and figuring out everything, it’s been a really really good experience and I’ve felt like the songs are stronger because we’ve collaborated so much and then we send it to Pedro and then he tears it apart.

Riddle: That’s one thing that I like is if Chris comes up with something, I’ll get it and then he’s like do that ‘classic Matt Riddle’ that a lot of bands don’t know how to do. So I do that which I basically learned how to do, something like playing Steve Harris songs, Iron Maiden. But I learned that style, so he’s like put that stuff on it. So I do that and then it gets sent to Pedro and Pedro’s like ‘you know what, I think this should be a verse, this should be a chorus’ and he’ll change things up, send it back and it immediately sounds like pretty much done.

Swinney: And it’s great because like I don’t think we think a lot about vocals when we’re writing, we think about parts, like here’s a verse, here’s a chorus, and because we all live on opposite sides of the country, we played to a click track and as long as we do that we can kind of puzzle piece everything together. So when Pedro gets it and he writes the lyrics and the melodies and the harmonies, he’ll be like ‘hey your verse is a better chorus, maybe that chorus doesn’t need to be done two times, it needs to be done one time’ and he’ll cut it up and send it back and then I can manipulate my master session to what he wants. It always comes out better. He’s a vocalist and you know we just think about this is gonna be a cool guitar or bass part right and everybody’s got input. Like even the new guy, Matt Morris, when he was cutting the drums for these new songs, coming up with fill ideas. And like there’s that part on the second verse of “A Fools Errand” where he goes into the floor tom thing. Like we want it to be a band, we don’t want it to be one person.

Riddle: Right yeah, like him asking what to do on drums on the songs, I told him, I go ‘you know what dude, be you, just do you on all these songs’ and he came up with some really rad stuff. And then we would go over it, make sure it all fit right in the song. And so it’s rad, we’re all inputting now as far as the songs go.

Swinney: We’ve all been in situations too where we’ve kind of been a team player with a guy who’s like ‘the guy’. And I don’t want that to be the case because when this first started, a lot of people were like ‘are you writing all the songs’. I’m like well they’re not songs until everybody gets them because the songs that I do won’t be right if Matt doesn’t play the Matt thing on the song. It’s not a Fire Sale song if Pedro doesn’t put it together the way he wants for his vocals. Like I love the fact that everything is equal, even down to the royalties and everything is equal. Like I don’t want this to ever become anything other than fun. Like yeah everybody’s equal and I love the guys I’m making music with and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

DS: Right, so there’s been a lot of ‘super groups’ that I’ve listened to where you can obviously tell who’s writing the songs. It’s just a carryover from whatever other band, they sound the same. With you guys I kind of have trouble pinpointing, like you can’t tell who wrote what, probably because like you said it’s kind of a collaborative effort.

Swinney: Here put this in your article, that me and Matt are the Lennon and McCartney of punk rock, *laughs*.

DS: Damn right, *laughs*.

Swinney: Yeah somebody said that in a review when we released dark hearts I thought it was hilarious

Riddle: Really funny, Lennon McCartney, that’s funny. Chris wrote like most of everything on all the songs and we’ve put our stuff into it but I’ve had songs from back in the day that I brought over and actually “A Fool’s Errand” is one of those songs. I wrote that a long time ago when I was kind of relearning how to play bass after I got sick. I was having a hard time playing and that’s why the riff is so gnarly in that song, because it was more of just for practicing. But I got done, I’m like ‘oh that could be a song’ and I just wrote it and its been 10 years and I send it to Chris, he redid the guitar, reprogrammed some drums before matt joined and so then I redid the bass on it and it was an amazing melody. I’m like ‘dude this is a song, what the hell just happened.’

One thing funny is that Chris you know likes my playing style. So one night my wife is out of town, went out to some party thing, and Chris had wrote me and he’s like ‘hey dude I don’t know if you’re in a songwriting mood or what, but how about one of those those Matt bass intro. So I was like playing like playing Elden Ring or something, I was gaming. So I got my bass, I’m sitting there messing around and I came up with this riff and went to the computer put in the click track, play the riff and next thing I knew, I had a whole song written, remember that.

Swinney: Are you talking about “Albatross”?

Riddle: “Albatross,” yeah really really fast, but the riff is killer. I think I just came up with it and then I ended up writing the entire song around that riff, sent it to Chris and then he changed parts here and there, put the guitars on it.

Swinney: I stayed up till 6:00 in the morning redoing all guitar parts and everything.

Riddle: Yeah because I can’t play guitar so I just kind of ripped through it and said ‘here’s something like this’ and then he put the guitar line. I think that’s great.

Swinney: That’s gonna be one for the next couple that are coming out. We literally on our SoundCloud page and in our Google Drive, we have like 14, 15 more songs and they’re gonna like, I mean I know you haven’t asked yet, but I’ll go ahead and say like the plan now, we wanted to do a full length but it’s hard working the way that we work. Everybody’s got different things going on and our label, the idea from Negative Progression was like hey, let’s put out a series of two-song EP’s and then eventually we’ll release a full vinyl like 12 inch. So in the next few months we’ll probably have two more come out and then in the next couple months a couple more. We’re gonna keep leaking out singles.

DS: I know Matt you talked about “A Fool’s Errand,” the writing behind that. I wanted to talk to Chris, with “We Dance for Sorrow,” that’s your song, right?

Swinney: Yeah, the first verse, the thing I really really liked, it’s got that kind of clean, single note thing on the verse with Matt’s bass too. I always kind of thought that sounded like one of the darker Blink 182 songs, but not like cheesy. I had that forever, I think I might have even sent you [Matt] like a voice memo of it at some point and you’re like ‘yeah that’s cool’. I finally one day was able to kind of figure out how that song fit together and even like the intro part, a couple people said it reminds them of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which it’s similar it’s not the same thing.

Riddle: It used to sound more like it and you changed one thing.

Swinney: I changed it yeah, things like one or two notes from the last little piece and now it doesn’t sound like “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” That one of those songs where once I figured out the direction of what was gonna happen, it just came out. And people talk about inspiration, people talk about you know the hit songs they write or the best songs they write take 5 minutes. Once I figured out what that verse was that I’d written two years ago or whatever, that song did just kind of fly out. And I sent it to Pedro and the only thing he did I think he shortened one of the choruses or something like it was very much the way I sent it was the way it came back. And so I just felt really good about that and I don’t look at it as Matt wrote “A Fools Errand” and I wrote that because we all put our stuff on it. I kind of feel connected to that song. I don’t know, I love both songs, I love every song we’ve ever done, but that song, I feel real connected to it just because of how it came together.

DS: Right and it was those two in particular, I just I really couldn’t pinpoint who wrote them, and it took me reading some interview with you guys that said Matt you kind of wrote this, one Chris you wrote this one. But I was listening to them, I really couldn’t tell so that’s why I asked you earlier about if it’s kind of collaborative.

Riddle: Well you know what it is I think that makes it indistinguishable is Pedro’s vocals. Like he sings what he wants to sing and that’s what makes the songs sound like us immediately. Like he writes these really great melodies, I never would have came up with that melody for “A Fools Errand,” no way. Like I can write the music all day, but that’s how it was when I was in Face To Face and that’s why that song probably sounds kind of reminiscent of early Face To Face, because when I would write like with Trever, those are the kind of songs we wrote, real quick, fast, painless, done. And Pedro comes up with these melodies that makes it sound like a Fire Sale song instead which I think is super killer, you know.

Swinney: I’ll also say, working with Matt, the thing that’s really been beneficial for me is that, like I was in The Ataris, but I’ve also been in a bunch of like metal bands and like hardcore bands, so I’m not a good editor. I try to make things like hard, I try to like ‘oh I’m gonna throw 4 harmonies on this’ and ‘I’m gonna shred’ and ‘I’m gonna do 64th notes’ and ‘I’m gonna tap’ and I don’t need to do that because I feel like my whole life I’ve been trying to show off for other musicians instead of just write good songs. And so working with Matt, sometimes I’ll send him something and he’s like ‘just do something simple, it’s like you don’t have to do Propagandi shit on everything’.

Riddle: I’ll like crack up because you’ll do these things. I’m like ‘dude like just play sloppier on “Albatross”.’ There’s these chord changes he does and I’m like ‘dude that sounds like a robot’. That’s how Dave Nassie was.

Swinney: That’s the thing that I think Dave and I have in common. Because when I was in The Ataris, Chris Roe would always be like ‘dude you play like you’re a computer, you need to chill and just like slop it up a little bit’. Like man when I was growing up and I was learning guitar, I would sit in my bedroom after school for four or five hours and play scales to a metronome. So it’s hard for me to do that. But there are some parts and songs that haven’t come out yet where Matt kind of said that to me and I did loosen up and it was better like if it breathed more and it had more soul.

Riddle: I just like the songs to sound real.

Swinney: Yeah I mean I do too, I just didn’t know how to do that.

Riddle: It’s funny because it is real, like when you play, it is real, but it’s just that you play like I said, so meticulous and so tight and he still, to this day will sit down and just over and over like he’s so good. And that’s how you play, like real clean and right to the point and I like sloppy metal, I like sloppy punk, I like sloppy. I like real musicians doing real stuff

Swinney: The thing I love about Matt’s playing is that like when I’ll get the stuff back and I’ll try to like edit or quantize stuff, if I fix anything wrong with Matt’s playing, it doesn’t sound like Matt Riddle, you know what I mean. Like we talked to Jason at the Blasting Room, I’m like ‘you know, make sure it lines up, edit it the way you wanna edit it, but if you do too much it’s gonna take away the cool factor.’ I’m starting to kind of feel the same way with my playing, like yeah, maybe I didn’t hit it exactly on the grid, maybe I could be a little left or right of center. I think he’s right, I think it does make you sound a little bit more like humans are playing it you know.

DS: How’s the reception been so far for you guys’ releases?

Riddle: I don’t know, I don’t know how that works. Chris?

Swinney: It was really really good. We first came out with the first two singles last year, but I am astonished at the amount of feedback we’re getting on these two new songs. It’s crazy man like the amount of people that are emailing and commenting on the socials. I’ve had texts from people I haven’t talked to in 10 years that someone sent them the song, like it’s been crazy. And I don’t know what good streaming is and what bad streaming is but we’ve done, you know, a couple thousand in less than two days so for a small band like us it’s pretty good. I’m really really excited that people seem to be connecting with it as much as we did when we were writing it.

Riddle: I kind of drop out of conversations sometimes, like there’s a whole group text that went on, but I was driving, it was a 19-hour drive to get out here to Oklahoma. So I couldn’t really write anybody back, but they were sending the stream numbers and all that and I’m like ‘damn that seems pretty rad for something I recorded in my bedroom’.

Swinney: *laughs*, something we recorded in our bedroom, but then Jason [Livermore] and Bill [Stevenson] took it to the Blasting Room and made it sound really good.

Riddle: I was nervous, I didn’t know how that was gonna go over because you’re producing our stuff and I was like that sounds good and then when Jason got hold of it I couldn’t believe what we got back, I was like that’s really fuckin amazing.

Swinney: And I had a couple of conversations with Jason about like making sure that the original spirit of the demo I produced was still there, but it just sounded really really good so he kind of knew what we were going for.

DS: Yeah, next thing, let’s talk about like future. So you guys said you had a completed record, well basically a completed record worth of material, right?

Swinney: Yeah the thing is, it’s expensive, like we could mix and master and we could put it out and people would probably like it, but now that we’ve gotten that taste of working with Jason and Bill, man I don’t wanna go down in quality.

Riddle: Right yeah, they kind of next leveled it.

Swinney: Yeah and with the label we’re working with, Seth, the guy that owns Negative Progression, he’s been amazing ever since we signed and you know if we need funds for something, he makes them available. And I don’t know how financially good of a decision that is on his part, but he’s doing it, we’re gonna put these out, wait awhile, put some more out. And there are gonna be physicals for everything we release, there’s gonna be a 7-inch colored vinyl for these two songs [A Fool’s Errand] and then we’re also gonna have CD singles and cassette singles, which I think are kind of fun. And we’re just gonna keep going that way. As far as the future, uh, we’re in talks with a couple booking agents, and they know that we all have jobs and families and we’re not gonna be on the road all the time, but there’s been a lot of talk of festivals and there’s some overseas stuff that’s been spoken about. Nothing’s concrete yet but there’s definitely gonna be some shows in our future, just probably no crazy tours.

Riddle: For me, it’s a little bit hard to tour after I got sick, like trying to keep up with my medication and stuff on the road is really really hard to do, it’s hard for insulin and all my pills. Like I run out of stuff. I got really sick doing that, and then I got sick again because we had shows with NOFX just through California, right by my home. Still my sugar would drop, and I’m not good at the diabetes thing at all, it’s like type one, it’s really bad.

Swinney: I think the thing that we’re gonna do is we wanna do things that’re gonna be beneficial for the band. So you know Pedro lives on the East Coast, Matt lives on the West Coast, the other Matt lives in Texas, I live in the Midwest. So there’s been talks about you know doing five or six days on the West Coast and maybe five or six days on the East Coast, playing markets that make sense for the band. And then like maybe like Riot Fest or Punk Rock Bowling, like things that are not super taxing, like just the weekend away, play a gig, go home back to normal life, kids, wife, whatever. And then the overseas stuff, I mean it’s been talked about and there’s some good opportunities, but it’s gonna have to work for everyone in the band. I’ve got a 6-year-old and a 5-year-old and I can’t be gone for more than a week or two. I love playing live and I miss being on the road because we used to do it all like 24/7, but I would much rather sit and watch Peppa Pig with my daughter than be in Germany playing some shitty club that’s freezing.

Riddle: Yeah we end up in Germany at some shitty club, those kids are gonna know that you don’t wanna be there, *laughs*.

Swinney: So ok I’ll take that back, I’ll go play a shitty freezing club in Germany as long as a week or two later I can come see my kids.

Riddle: Yeah I love shitty clubs in Germany.

Swinney: Germans love us, look at our Spotify numbers. We’re gonna probably end up there at some point next year.

DS: Okay so how would you describe your music style? Kind of how would you describe it and where your influences lie? Like I know with Matt, if you write a song you’ve got your personal influences, but more as a whole do you guys have influences and just how you would describe your music as a whole?

Swinney: Well I will say, I’m gonna let Matt give his, there are a lot of differences between Matt and I, but there is kind of a Venn diagram of things we agree on. I am a little bit younger than Matt.

Riddle: Hey *laughs*…

Swinney: So like when I was growing up, it was all the 90s punk stuff that Matt was involved in. Like he’s 55, I just turned 44, so my thing is like when I first started hanging out talking to Matt, I thought ‘oh we’re gonna have all this stuff in common, we’re gonna talk about Pennywise and blah blah blah’ and it wasn’t like that. But then I realized that I’m also a metal head, so I didn’t realize how deep into some of the metal stuff Matt went. So I think we’ve bonded a little bit more over Maiden and some of the weird kind of Scandinavian stuff than we have over punk rock. But when I’m writing, the influences that I’m drawing from are 90s skate punk and 80s thrash metal. That’s me and then Matt’s a little bit different I think.

Riddle: It’s actually kind of weird. I’m not really influenced musically by bands as much as I am influenced by what they did. How do I explain this, like it doesn’t make me write a certain way, I write how I write. I can’t help that, that happened with Trever in Face to Face, it’s just what it was. But what I listened to, yeah my picking style is reminiscent of a lot of like Steve Harris and that kind of stuff. I’m very metal that way as well, but I don’t write like that. I write my own stuff. Like when I first got into punk rock, it wasn’t any of that stuff, it wasn’t 90’s stuff. I got into like Rudimentary Peni, Antisect, all this like real dark, weird shit that wasn’t really even hard. It was hard to find, but I just loved how dark and weird it was. I grew up on Maiden, that was my thing, but like when I got into punk rock, I started to drift into the darker side of music altogether. There’s of course like the Cure and Joy Division and stuff like that, but then my metal taste got into like Mayhem. And I like the Viking side of it, I like the black metal stuff. I like a lot of that kind of like weird stuff.

Swinney: He likes the bands that burn down churches, *laughs*… and that has been a thing that Matt and I thought, because I’m a music theory geek, like I went to college for theory and performance guitar. And we’ll start talking about a song and I’ll be like ‘yeah that augmented 4th blah blah blah’, and he’s like ‘it’s an A I don’t know.’

Riddle: Yeah I don’t know what I played.

Swinney: But I love that because sometimes having the theory knowledge hinders me. I won’t try something that might be outside of the box because theoretically it shouldn’t work and it could be this really cool dissonant thing. So I like the push and pull between Matt and I with our influences and with how we both play and how I’m a little bit more robotic or whatever, by the book, and he’s a little not so. When that pushes and like rubs together I think it’s better musically for what we’re putting out.

Riddle: Yeah it took me a little bit of time to subscribe to that like when it comes to actually writing. I kind of had to fall into that place because, again, I’m more loose and whatever and I’m not really used to like major minor and all that kind of stuff because what I listen to is so different than that. But I also do know that when something sounds cool, it sounds cool. Like if it’s sonically correct, that’s killer. And if it’s not, well it sounds good to my ears.

Swinney: That’s why it’s called a theory because it’s not a proof.

Riddle: *laughs* but yeah I think you can be influenced by anything, doesn’t have to be like music. Like I never thought to myself ‘oh I wanna play a song that sounds like that,’ like that was never my thing. It was what just came out.

Swinney: No that makes total sense because like I guess I don’t like base a reference point when I’m writing this song. Like the way that the stuff comes out that I send you [Matt] that I’m writing, it’s just off the top of my head. And then I put it together the way that I think it should go together. But for me growing up and being like obsessed with two bands you [Matt] were in, those bands kind of inspired me. And I’ll start playing a song and I’ll be like ‘Oh, well what if on this part, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do, what if I did this thing that Tony did or what if I did this thing that Trever did.’ That’s a theory kind of thing, maybe they didn’t know it was a theory thing. The Maiden influence, I’ve always been a Maiden guy. But then NOFX and No Use, Good Riddance and Strung Out and Propagandhi and 88 Fingers Louie and like these bands from when I was in junior high and high school that if I didn’t have them, I don’t think I would be doing this right now. And Matt was a big part of that. Yeah, even though we’re buddies and we’re in the same band together, but thank you for helping mold my shit you know.

Riddle: But I mean like I know how to get from point a to point b, but I’m again not a theory guy. I learned how to play bass, learning how to tune my bass by listening to records. I didn’t have tuner. I put a record on and I just hit a note and go ‘that doesn’t sound right’ and turn my tuning peg until my string makes sense. That’s how I learned how to tune. Yeah it’s ridiculous, I practiced everything you know like Maiden, Fleetwood Mac, like I’m all over the place. And nowadays I just practice the bands like Mayhem and stuff like that because I like to be really really fast. But I mean I’m not that loose when it comes to writing, but I guess I’m a lot less structured.

Swinney: And I would like to be less structured than I am because it hinders me sometimes.

Riddle: Yeah many times I’ve sent something to Chris and you’ll change something and go ‘how about this’ and I’ll go ‘Oh my God dude, I never would have thought of that’ and then Pedro comes up with this vocal line where I’m like ‘well fuck that, finish that song.’ It’s weird, it’s kind of a weird thing.

Swinney: I’m just really really happy. I mean I’ll tie this up by just saying that we all have different people, like influences. Pedro’s get a lot more pop punk type stuff. Like I was more skate punky whatever, metal whatever. And Pedro, he does listen to a lot I think more pop type stuff that informs what he does. I mean I’m not saying like he has a reference like I said earlier, but I think it informs his style and you know it’s very melodic. The one thing that a lot of people have said to me since we’ve released this is just how are there these like mid tempo or fast punk songs. They’re so melodic and there’s actually like pretty parts. And I think a lot of that comes from his influences and what informs that is the pop stuff he listens to, the pop punk stuff. I don’t know, I look at this band and everything we’re doing. We’re all in our 40s or 50s and we’re putting out new music that people really seem to connect to and like and I think that is a rare thing to be able to do. I’m just so grateful that people are giving us a chance man.

Riddle: Yeah that’s really cool, kind of dusted off the cobwebs for me.

Swinney: I hadn’t done anything in 10 years man. And I mean like Matt was kind of in that same boat almost. And I wrote a couple songs, sent them to Matt and shit started kicking off. And now it’s a real thing. Yeah, ideally we want people to like it, but also it’s just been such a good, fun experience to write songs with these guys that I really respect and admire like it’s a bonus.

DS: It seems like everybody’s kind of complimenting each other. Where you [Chris] said you’re very mechanical whereas Matt, a little looser. It seems like that kind of complements each other, and then with Pedro tying everything in at the end.

Swinney: Matt Morris, I don’t wanna leave out Matt Morris. The band has been doing stuff and been writing and been an entity since the pandemic started almost, when we locked in Matt Morris, this band turned a corner. Now it’s me, Matt and Matt and Pedro and it’s a band and it feels better than it’s felt ever.

Riddle: It’s cool because I know he was a fan of mine and yours Chris and so for him to do this, he’s totally digging it. It was cool because he sent that text like ‘well what about this, what about this, and that’s when I told him ‘no dude, just be you and do what you want’ and he did. Yeah he’s really solid, a really really good drummer.

Swinney: I feel really really good about the lineup of guys we have. I mean we’re all busy, Pedro’s in a bunch of bands, he’s getting ready to go to Europe with Nathan Gray and Iron Roses. So I mean that’s the thing, like of course when we do tour, when we do play shows, it’s a logistical thing figuring out how to get everybody somewhere. But I mean a lot of festivals are fly-in dates and stuff like that, I mean it’s gonna happen and everybody’s on board 100%. It just feels really really good now that we have this core unit of guys that everybody cares about the band, everybody wants it to happen. The band’s been this kind of slithering weird like project up until Morris got in and now it’s like ‘ok the four of us are Fire Sale and we’re gonna kick everyone’s ass.’ *laughs* that’s how I feel.

DS: That’s awesome man. Yeah I really appreciate you guys talking. When I saw you guys were interested in an interview, I jumped on it immediately because both of you guys were in bands that were very influential to me as a kid with The Ataris and then yeah Face to Face and No Use for a Name. Yeah all three of those were hugely influential for me growing up. It’s really cool getting to talk to you guys now so I really appreciate you taking the time.

Swinney: Yeah we appreciate you too man because, like I said you know, I was the 5th guitarist in The Ataris, like that moniker works and helps get some people in the door, but it’s the fact of like Matt Riddle is one of my favorite bass players in the entire world, but he’s I think maybe felt like I felt in my past bands where I was always a supporting cast member for somebody else. And in this band I don’t want there to be any supporting cast members, we’re all equal in the same and we all do interviews. Fire Sale is the most inclusive band you can find.

Riddle: Don’t let me be your favorite bass player, that title should go to Scott Shiflett because that should be everybody’s favorite bass player.

Swinney: Well my favorite bass player is Cliff Burton then you and Scott Shiflett right in there too.

DS: Yeah I’ll try not to take anymore your guys time, I appreciate talking to you. It was really cool meeting you guys.

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DS Interview: Getting precise with Dan Precision (Dan Wleklinski)

Dan Wleklinski, aka “Dan Precision,” is one of the Chicago area punk scene’s top-level multi-hyphenates. As a musician, Wleklinksi was a founding member of 88 Fingers Louie; Rise Against; Soulscape; Break the Silence, and now The Iron Spiders.  He is also a prolific record producer. I recently spent a few hours documenting his production work, […]


Dan Wleklinski, aka “Dan Precision,” is one of the Chicago area punk scene’s top-level multi-hyphenates. As a musician, Wleklinksi was a founding member of 88 Fingers Louie; Rise Against; Soulscape; Break the Silence, and now The Iron Spiders.  He is also a prolific record producer. I recently spent a few hours documenting his production work, on the upcoming Bumsy and the Moochers record, at The Bombshelter Recording Studio. He founded the studio in the basement of his suburban childhood home in 1999. Later, in a wide-ranging interview, in which we discussed his work as a musician and as a producer, he recalled some of his wildest experiences, his love of road trips on his motorcycle, and more.


MerGold (Dying Scene)How did you get into music to start with? 

Dan Wleklinksi:  My parents had a very slight musical background, and my dad started to teach me some basic piano playing when I was around 5 years old. I started taking actual piano lessons at the age of 10, but I really wanted to play guitar. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have enough money to buy a guitar for me and said that I couldn’t take guitar lessons. I told them that I would quit piano out of spite if I couldn’t take guitar lessons, and being the little a**hole kid that I was, I quit piano a few days later. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done that because I would have been a much better and learned musician at this age. Luckily I started learning guitar at the age of 13.


Were there any shows or events you find particularly memorable?  Good or bad? 

The memorable events and shows are beyond count…both good and bad…like having 13 cop cars called on us in 2004 [in Fresno, CA when a member of Break The Silence] after we threatened a venue owner for not paying up. We were on tour with A Wilhelm Scream and Much the Same. Or in 1999, [with 88 Fingers Louie], almost fighting some Germans in Hamburg for accusing us of trashing their van. The dudes in At The Drive-In were going to back us up if that fight ever happened, but we got out of that one.

One of my favorite times was the weekend in 2014 [again, with 88 Fingers Louie] where we played Rock Fest in Montebello, Canada. There were so many cool bands that we shared the stage with, including Blink-182, Primus, Motley Crue, Megadeth, Danzig, Weezer, Cypress Hill, and so many more. Most of the bands stayed in the same 5-story hotel on the site of the festival, so we got to hang out and talk with so many cool musicians. We also had a view of several stages from our hotel rooms, so if we didn’t feel like going down, we could watch the bands from the comfort of our own rooms.


Favorite venues and events in Chicago; the same question for other locations?

I have played quite a few great venues in Chicago, including the Fireside Bowl, Bottom Lounge, The Metro, Livewire, House of Blues, and The Vic, but I’ve always loved playing Reggies.

There are many events that have been a blast to play, including Riot Fest in Chicago (we also played the Denver dates), Punk Rock Bowling in Las Vegas (and we played the New Jersey version as well), both Groezrock and Brakrock in Belgium, Music 4 Cancer and Rockfest in Canada, Rebellion Fest in the United Kingdom, and Punk Rock Holiday in Slovenia.


How do you decide which projects, bands, or musicians with whom to work?

As a musician, I really enjoy working with other players who share the same long-term vision and talent. I’ve been lucky to have started bands such as 88 Fingers Louie, Rise Against, Break the Silence, Soulscape, and now The Iron Spiders. At this point in my life, if I were going to consider being in a professional band, they would need to be a touring band. One of the most difficult things to deal with is the fact that I have the freedom to tour while several bands I’ve been a part of have lost that ability over time.


How did you then get into producing records? What was your first record?

My first real band, 88 Fingers Louie, recorded multiple times starting in 1993 with the esteemed producer, Mass Giorgini, at his studio, Sonic Iguana in Lafayette, Indiana. We recorded a bunch of EPs and 2 full albums there, including “Behind Bars” and “Back on the Streets.” During the “Back on the Streets” sessions, Mass commented that I had a very good ear for music and asked if I wanted to learn how to be an audio engineer. I agreed. I started by comping vocal tracks on “Back on the Streets” so that was technically the first record I ever worked on.

I opened my studio, The Bombshelter Recording Studio, in 1999, and the first band I recorded was The Poonanies. The singer, Tony, went on to form Chicago’s very own, Shot Baker.


How do you decide which musicians to work with?  Are there parameters for which you will turn down bands or projects?

Typically, bands ask to work with me from word-of-mouth of past clients, or seeing my name in the credits of albums I’ve recorded. I feel that with the rise in streaming over the last decade, the latter has been increasingly difficult to achieve visibility. I believe Spotify recently has started showing recording/producing/mixing credits if you click on the release, but the bands still need to input that information.

Most bands are great with sharing the recording credits to streaming platforms, and I feel it’s in their best interest to do so. Not only could it possibly open up other avenues of listeners, but it also helps the engineers and producers get their names out to other musicians who might like their production. 

I don’t really turn down bands or projects. I’ve worked with bands who were 13 and 14 years old who were eager to learn. I’ve also worked with seasoned musicians in their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s…and everything in between.

I have suggested bands to possibly go to a different producer if I feel we wouldn’t be a good fit. For example, I feel that bands and producers need to take time in the studio to make their recording the best it can be. If a band wants to record 10 songs in 2 days, I let them know that I don’t work that quickly as I believe the process and the quality suffers. 


How collaborative is the process? Do you want the bands to come in with specific ideas, or do you take the lead?

The recording process can be very collaborative, and that’s one of my favorite parts in producing bands. I enjoy when bands have specific ideas and together, we can combine all of our musical experience and hone each song. However, there are many times when the band would like me to take the lead, and I am happy to do so.

That can be a little more difficult when I work with a band for the first time, but luckily, I have a lot of repeat clients, and each subsequent time, the collaboration becomes easier and more fruitful. It really is a beautiful thing to be creative with other musicians who may have different musical styles and backgrounds.


Have you worked on some musician’s debut albums? As in the musician has never been in a studio? What is that experience like?

Yes, I’ve worked with a few bands’ with it being their first time in the studio. Typically, those are teenaged bands looking to cut their first EP. I’ve also worked with guest musicians who are singing backing vocals or playing an accompanying part on an established band’s recording. Sometimes they are young…like a band member’s son or daughter. Other times they are talented mothers and fathers of the band currently in the studio. Either way, it’s always an enjoyable experience as they leave having learned something. I think I’m a bit like my father, who was a great teacher. It’s an awesome feeling to have bands return and to see the progress they have achieved since their last recording with me.


Related to being a producer, what are the best parts of owning your own studio? Are there challenges you were not fully aware of before owning your own studio?

As you may have gathered from my earlier answers, I love being in the studio, working with musicians, and also mixing and mastering on my own…basically, I love the audio portion of running the business. One of the more difficult parts for me is the advertising aspect. While I’m proud of the work I do, and I enjoy promoting bands’ releases, I don’t really like “talking myself up.” When I first started, I think I was lucky because people heard about the Bombshelter through the bands I was in. Over the years, word-of-mouth from happy clients has helped me continue to do what I love…for 25 years! I’m still slightly shocked that the month of September 2024 will be the 25th anniversary of The Bombshelter Recording Studio. “Thank you” to all of my past and especially return clients who have helped me do what I love for so long!


 Last year you left the studio and the stages for a really cool reason. You embarked on a solo motorcycle road trip across part of the country, and brought your friends and fans with you via photos and video. How and when did you start riding?  What does riding do for you?

Although I started riding 30 years ago, my first solo motorcycle tour was in 2022.  Riding is usually very relaxing for me, and I believe the joy I experience on longer tours are an extension of my time touring with bands. There are so many memorable moments I’ve experienced the last few years, like riding the “Million Dollar Highway” in Colorado and through the “Needles Eye Tunnel” in South Dakota.


What was the journey like? Were there any particularly memorable moments good or bad? Any hair-raising moments? 

I ask that last question recalling some of my own hair-raising moments riding in vans through Southeast Asia, and buses when I lived in Guatemala. Some of those steeply curved mountainsides were pretty scary. I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it might be on a motorcycle. 

I try not to think back too much on the “bad” or “hair-raising” moments like when animals jump in front of you, or trying to stay awake during the last hour of your Saddlesore 1000 (traveling 1000 miles in under 24 hours).  However, I will always remember last year’s 10-hour ride from Fort Collins to Montrose, Colorado over Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. It was both hair-raising and memorable to cross the highest point of 12,183 feet in 34 degree (1 degree Celsius) weather with snow on the sides of the road. Luckily the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice due to the warmth of the rising sun.

One of the more difficult things when touring in a band is having the time to enjoy the cities, environments, and scenery along the way. I get to enjoy all of those things while on my motorcycle trips. It is a goal of mine to combine both touring in a band while riding a motorcycle. The late Neil Peart wrote about his time doing that exact thing on several Rush tours, and it sounds heavenly to me!


Wleklinski is one of the most genuine, humble, and all-around nicest people I’ve met, not just in the punk scene, but anywhere.  And of course, he has one of the best heads of hair in this scene as well.  His long silver mane makes for some amazing on-stage images as he rocks it all over the place.  

Those of us photographers who have had the pleasure to shoot him in concert will rue the day he ever decides to cut it off.  However, that’s one move I don’t see Wleklinski making. 

I do look forward to the future moves he makes in music, in record producing, as well as documenting further two-wheel adventures.

Thanks Dan, safe travels on your next road trip, and cheers!


Road trip images courtesy of Dan Wleklinski. All other photography by MGold for Dying Scene.

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DS Interview: Greg Norton on the legacy of Husker Du, surviving cancer, and his kickass new supergroup, UltraBomb

If ever there was a band that exemplified how the changes in the music business since the dawn of the Covid pandemic both giveth and taketh away, you could reasonably make the argument that that band is UltraBomb. Since the band is still in its relative infancy with a grand total of one live show […]

If ever there was a band that exemplified how the changes in the music business since the dawn of the Covid pandemic both giveth and taketh away, you could reasonably make the argument that that band is UltraBomb. Since the band is still in its relative infancy with a grand total of one live show and one album that is almost officially released in all the current formats of the day, we’ll give you the so-called twenty-five-cent version first.

UltraBomb is a three-piece international supergroup, and I know the term supergroup gets thrown around somewhat liberally from time to time, but this one checks whatever boxes you need it to check for that term to apply. The band consists of Dublin-by-way-of-Canada based Mahones frontman Finny McConnell on vocal and guitar duties, Jamie Oliver (the one from UK Subs and SNFU, not the chef, though they’re both based in the UK so you can’t be 100% sure of that I suppose) on the drums and none other than Minnesota icon Greg Norton of Husker Du fame holding down the low-end.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Norton for a super fun phone call about how the project came together, and the story is an interesting combination of a sign of the 21st century digital times and good, old-fashioned punk rock. After about a decade-and-a-half away from the music world altogether post-Husker Du, Norton dipped his toes in the water and eventually started playing in Minneapolis-based three piece band Porcupine. Eventually, Porcupine’s bandleader decided to change direction, leaving Norton again without an active band. Enter: the magic of Facebook. “Finny and I had been Facebook friends for quite a while. (He) is a huge Husker fan,” Norton explains. Once Finny saw that Norton was bandless, “he sent me a message and he’s like “well, I’ve got this idea. I know the greatest punk rock drummer on the planet, Jamie Oliver. He drums for the UK Subs, and I think we should put a band together.

As it turns out, this may have been news to none other than Jamie Oliver, save for a little behind-the-scenes finagling. “At the same time (he was messaging me,” Norton explains, “Finny messaged Jamie and said “hey, let’s put a band together with Greg Norton!” And Jamie’s like “I’m in!” With step one – the lineup – now set, the band got to work on the other important early band decisions. “We were trying to figure out a name for the band, and a friend of Jamie’s suggested UltraBomb.” Boom, step two: complete. “I had a photo of my daughter Coco with the lollipop and sunglasses, and a friend of mine locally here in Red Wing took that photo and put the atomic bomb in the background, and I’m like “holy crap, I’ve got the album cover!” I slapped “UltraBomb” on that picture and sent it over to Jamie and Finny and they’re like “That’s it!

With a band lineup and name and album cover all squared away in relatively short order in August 2021, there came the came somewhat superfluous next steps of A) actually meeting each other and B) actually working on music. Turns out, Finny had a plan for that too. The following month, the Mahones frontman was playing a series of solo shows in Europe, and just so happened to have some time booked at a studio in Berlin. Jamie, as fate would have it, was also going to be in Berlin. All they needed was Greg. As he tells it, “Finny mentions to me that he’s got four days booked in a studio, and all of a sudden it’s like “well, I should go to Berlin…” I had never met these guys. I book a flight, fly to Berlin, Jamie picks me up at the airport, and that’s the first time we meet face-to-face. The next morning, we’re in the studio getting set up, and Finny shows up, and that’s the first time we had ever met face to face too. It was the first time the three of us had been in a room together. We get set up, Finny had been writing riffs for the band, and that first day we wrote four songs. The second day we wrote the following six.”

The result of that whirlwind, four-day session, is Time To Burn. It’s ten originals plus a Norton-fronted cover of the Dead Boys’ classic “Sonic Reducer,” all banged out in less time than it took me to transcribe our conversation (below). It’s got a raw, throwback vibe, as you might expect from an album that was essentially written on the fly in the studio and grew out of a collection of basic riffs Finny had stored up and a volume of lyrics that Norton just happened to have with him that weren’t initially set to any real music. And while the band essentially got together over Facebook Messenger and the album essentially came together over the course of a long weekend, getting to the point where there was a physical album available for the general public to get its respective grubby little mitts on AND getting to the point where the multi-national trio could play shows together has been a grind of epic proportions.

There were tour dates canceled due to the waxes and wanes of Covid restrictions. There were production hold-ups because, as you might have heard, Adele and Taylor Swift and Beyonce released albums on vinyl and gummed up the works. And then, last summer, there was the most serious hold-up yet, when Norton was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Routine bloodwork revealed a possible diagnosis and a referral to a urologist, and from there, things escalated quickly. “They do an MRI, they do a biopsy, they kind of map out everything that they want to look at, and then you get on the surgery schedule,” says Norton. While the band did have to cancel a run of England tour dates as a result, they were able to squeeze in a one-off show – their first ever – in Minneapolis last July. Four days later, Norton was on the operating table. “I was in the hospital for one night,” Norton explains. “They want you to get up and walk around and be active and get back to your regular normal life as quick as possible.”

Norton is quick to point out that his follow-up appointments and his margins after the operation are all A-OK, so he can finally get back to that “regular normal life” of a touring musician. Not only are physical copies of the record FINALLY just about available (with a little help from DC-Jam Records) tonight, May 11th, UltraBomb will play not only their second-ever show when they hit the stage at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Minnesota, but it’ll mark the beginning of a tour that’ll keep them on the road for the rest of the month. They’re teaming up with Bar Stool Preachers for a run of eighteen shows in twenty days – the longest run Norton will have been on since the last real Husker run decades ago. It’s a run that Norton and the crew are excited to finally be undertaking. “I’m sure nostalgically I look back on those (lengthy van-based Husker Du tour) days and remember them fondly. But the reality is I’m sure we’ll be in the van and going like “how many more hours do we have to go? I have to pee!

The UltraBomb/Bar Stool Preachers “It’s Got Legs Tour” runs from May 11th in St. Paul to May 31st in Denver, making stops in places like Memphis and St. Louis and Phoenix and LA and, of course, Punk Rock Bowling, along the way. Check out the full rundown here! You can stream Time To Burn below on Spotify and, most importantly, scroll down for our full chat, complete with lots of goodies about the Husker Du days, his fourteen-year-absence from even touching a bass, his entries into the free jazz movement, and much more!



Oddly enough, yes, the following Q&A is condensed for clarity and content purposes.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Thanks for doing this! I consider this an honor and a privilege, man. As a fan for a long, long time, it’s really cool to be able to get to chat with you, so thanks!

Greg Norton: You bet! So you’re in Massachusetts?

Yeah, I live just north of Boston.

Ok! I loved playing Boston back in the day. Some epic, epic fun times.

So, I’m in my mid-40s and that makes me the right age to have not been old enough to see Husker Du live…where would Husker have played in Boston? I’m trying to think of what was around for venues back in the day…The Channel probably? Or The Rat?

We played The Rat several times, we played The Channel several times. I can’t recall the venue that we played there towards the end, after The Channel (Editor’s note: it was Paradise in 1986 with Soul Asylum opening or it was The Orpheum Theater in 1987 with The Feelies opening. I know, right? Here’s a link to a sweet Husker database I found after we spoke.) Boston was on our very first trip East, and I remember coming into town and we were thinking that we were going to have to rebuild a fanbase and grow it from the ground up like we did out West. And we got to Boston, and the show was packed, and it’s like “oh, there’s this thing called college radio now, and there’s a lot of colleges in Boston!” 

And a lot of music colleges specifically!

Right! For sure! Probably a year and a half after that (editor’s note: 3/22/84), REM called and asked us if we wanted to open for them at the Harvard Fieldhouse. We were like “hell yeah!” So we tacked on a couple extra shows and drove out there. Playing with Mission of Burma out there was great. A lot of really great memories of Boston.

As someone who was born at the very end of the 70…

So you were just a wee lad during the Husker years!

I know! I’ve been in and around the scene in this area for a long time now. I grew up in New Hampshire, but we were close enough to Boston that depending on the conversation, you could call yourself part of the Boston scene. But the scene was so different in the mid-80s than it was in the mid-90s and it’s almost unrecognizable now from either of those times, but that’s a scene that I wish I had been born a little bit earlier into. 

Yup, that was a great one.

So anyway, yeah, thanks for chatting about this new UltraBomb record. It’s super fun, and I have to say that when I first read the press release maybe a year-and-a-half ago now, during that initial announcement that you and Finny and Jamie were putting a band together, I remember thinking “wow, that seems like something born out of Quarantine.” Where you guys are all physically located and the way it came together, that just sounds like it would be a perfect project for a bunch of guys who had nothing to do for nine months or whatever so they put a band together. Is that at all close to accurate?

Well, the getting it together over the internet part is accurate. Finny and I had been Facebook friends for quite a while. Finny is a huge Husker fan. Mahones covered a Husker tune. I had been playing with a band in Minneapolis called Porcupine. That just didn’t ultimately work out. I loved playing with those guys, but the guy that was the band leader – it was his band and he decided he wanted to change directions, so then I was no longer playing with Porcupine. Finny saw that and sent me a message and he’s like “well, I’ve got this idea. I know the greatest punk rock drummer on the planet, Jamie Oliver. He drums for the UK Subs, and I think we should put a band together.” At the same time, he messaged Jamie and said “hey, let’s put a band together with Greg Norton!” (*both laugh*) And Jamie’s like “I’m in!” 

That’s awesome.

That’s really how UltraBomb became a thing. Then we were trying to figure out a name for the band, and a friend of Jamie’s suggested UltraBomb. I had a photo of my daughter Coco with the lollipop and sunglasses, and a friend of mine locally here in Red Wing, when that was first up as a family Facebook post, took that photo and put the atomic bomb in the background, and I’m like “holy crap, I’ve got the album cover!” I slapped “UltraBomb” on that picture and sent it over to Jamie and Finny and they’re like “That’s it!” This is all in August of 2021. Skip forward a month and Finny is in Berlin doing a solo tour and Jamie just happens to be in Berlin. Finny mentions to me that he’s got four days booked in a studio, and all of a sudden it’s like “well, I should go to Berlin…” I had never met these guys. I book a flight, fly to Berlin, Jamie picks me up at the airport, and that’s the first time we meet face-to-face. The next morning, we’re in the studio getting set up, and Finny shows up, and that’s the first time we had ever met face to face too. It was the first time the three of us had been in a room together. We get set up, Finny had been writing riffs for the band, and that first day we wrote four songs. The second day we wrote the following six…

So wait, you guys weren’t trading ideas over Zoom or whatever in this whole process? It was really like “pick the lineup and the name and the cover art and then go write a record in the studio?” That’s fascinating!

Yeah pretty much! We wrote in the studio. Finny would play us a riff and we’d be like “okay, let’s do that” and we’d hammer it into an arrangement. Once we were comfortable with it, we’d tell the engineer “hit record on this one!” Almost everything at that point was recorded either on the first or second take. Jamie had to leave the third day, because he had to play a gig, so that day, Finny and I were in the studio just cleaning up some guitar parts, adding rhythm guitar parts, stuff like that. And I said “well, I’ve got all these lyrics…” so I pulled out like 2000 sets of lyrics. Finny sits down and looks at them and he’s like “well, I’ve got the whole record figured out.” The next morning, Sunday morning, Jamie is back with us. Finny goes in and sings the entire record. We did some on-the-fly pencil edits on the lyrics just to make them flow a little bit better, but I was blown away with how well Finny took my lyrics – which weren’t written to his music – and made them fit perfectly.

That’s really wild. 

We got done and Finny’s like “there it is, bruvs. We created a masterpiece!” At dinner on the second night, we talked about covering something just for fun. We decided on “Sonic Reducer,” so at the end of recording all the vocals on Sunday, the three of us knocked out “Sonic Reducer.” It was the first time Finny and I had ever played “Sonic Reducer” with a band, and I sang it! That’s the one song that I sing on the record. It just turned out so fantastic. Jamie did the mix in London, and it just turned out so awesome. I love it.

I think that “Sonic Reducer” is the first song that I remember hearing as a kid that I identified as being a ‘punk rock’ song. Moreso than The Ramones – I mean, I knew who the Ramones were obviously as a kid, but there’s a different feel obviously about “Sonic Reducer,” there’s a different feel about Dead Boys than there is about the Ramones. That’s the first song I remember hearing and going “THAT’s a punk rock song. I need to know more about what this is!”

There’s a ferocity and an urgency to that song, right from the downbeat. 

It’s really sort of wild to me that, aside from meeting over Facebook and getting to know each other over social media, this is otherwise a throwback, “punk rock” record, and I mean that in like the most ideal way. That’s not necessarily what I was expecting because of the way that so many people were writing music over Zoom and trading song parts and files over Dropbox. It’s really sort of refreshing that even though the band came together on social media, the album was written with just three guys in the studio for four days. That doesn’t happen enough in this scene anymore.

Yeah, I would agree with that. It was written in the moment. It came together so naturally. It felt like the three of us had been playing together for years. Finny and Jamie are such great guys that I feel like they’ve been my best buds for decades. The engineer couldn’t believe that we were writing these on the spot, but it’s that urgent, in-the-moment feel. The record captures the feel of what went down in the studio and obviously, we all have our backgrounds in punk, and there is somewhat of a nostalgic feel to it, but it also is fresh and sounds like it’s made for today. 

Yeah, it doesn’t really sound like anything else. It’s a rock trio so it’s got that sort of “thing,” and it’s very raw. It sounds like you recorded it live and all in the same room together, which I like and appreciate, but it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there now. Did you guys even trade ideas about what direction you wanted or what kind of thing Finny had in mind or whatever, or was it really just “let’s put a band together”?

It’s funny, so when Finny first contacted me, he’s like “hey, you know, this will just be a lot of fun. Let’s play some Husker Du, let’s play some Mahones, we’ll through in some UK Subs, maybe some SNFU, and we’ll just get together and have a laugh, and maybe we’ll play some festivals. People will fuckn’ love it.” And then we were like “well, maybe we should write some of our own music too,” and then when it happened in the studio, it was like “holy crap, we just wrote an album!” We’re getting ready now to go out on this tour. Jamie is already here in Red Wing with me, Finny comes in Sunday (May 7th) and we’re getting ready. We want to start writing new material right away, and we might even try to get some recording done while we’re on the road. It’s kind of the nature of what UltraBomb is! 

You’ve got what, a grand total of one show together under your belts at this point?

Yeah, one gig! Last July, in Minneapolis, after another stumble to get the band out on the road, I got diagnosed with prostate cancer. We canceled dates in England, but we had this offer from the Hook + Ladder in Minneapolis to headline a summer festival that they do, so Finny and Jamie fly in for that, we play one show, it was a total blast – the crowd went wild, there were people losing their minds, there were people crying, it was so incredible. And then five days after that, I had my prostate removed. We took the rest of last year off so I could recover. My diagnosis is good, my margins are clean, and the doctors say I should be yammering on for a few more decades here. 

Hell yeah!

So that’s how we get to the It’s Got Legs tour, which starts Thursday (May 11th) in St. Paul. We’ve got eighteen shows through the end of May – we’re playing 18 shows in 21 days, and Punk Rock Bowling is the crowning moment of the tour. We’re doing two shows in Vegas, one club show where we’re going to open for The Dickies, which I’m really looking forward to. That’s a band that Husker absolutely loved back in the day. I’ve seen them numerous times. And then we’re on the main stage mid-afternoon on Monday, the last day. It’s us and then L7 and then Suicidal Tendencies and then Dropkick Murphys, so…

That’s all killer, no filler right there. 

Yeah, jumping right into the deep end! (*both laugh*) 

And you’re going out with Bar Stool Preachers on this run too, right?

Yup! They’re doing the entire tour with us up to Punk Rock Bowling. I think they’ve got their own shows set up for Punk Rock Bowling, and then the last tour of our run is in Denver on our way home. That’ll be without Bar Stool Preachers. Their new record is great by the way.

They’re such a fun band. They’re such a fun group to see live too. They put on a great show.

I’m looking forward to playing with them.

They can sort of play with a lot of different bands because they float between styles a little bit so they fit on a lot of different bills. I think I saw them with Bouncing Souls, and I feel like they were here with The Business and maybe Swingin Utters. Super fun band. Are you excited to get back out on the road finally?

Yeah, really excited! Porcupine did a few runs, usually just four or five shows. We did a support run with The Flesh Eaters, and that was great. Dave Alvin and John Doe and DJ Bonebrake. They were super nice guys, and it was great hanging with them for the week. We did a run of shows with Flipper with David Yow on vocals. And then Mudhoney and Built To Spill. Those were all short tours though, so this is my first full-blown tour probably since the last long Husker tour. 

That’s pretty wild. Do you miss that part of the music industry? Being in a van and hitting the road for weeks at a time?

Yeah! Well, I’m sure nostalgically I look back on those days and remember them fondly. But the reality is I’m sure we’ll be in the van and going like “how many more hours do we have to go? I have to pee!” (*both laugh*)

Did that happen before, where someone would just hit you up about starting a band or joining their project? Was that a common occurrence for someone in your situation? I ask because I was just listening to your spiel with Mike Watt the other day. I don’t always listen to other shows or podcasts or things, but I love Watt and I’ve been blessed to talk to him a few times, so I used that as part of my research for talking with you, but I know he gets sent music all the time by people saying “hey, can you write with us?” or “hey, can you put bass riffs down under these tracks?” and whatnot, so was that a common occurrence where people would hit you up and ask about playing, and this time it just worked out? And I suppose, if so, why now and why Finny, because on paper it sounds like an interesting match…

You know, I dove into the restaurant world and became a chef and ran a place in Red Wing for seven years before I started my own restaurant. I went fourteen years without even picking up the bass. I thought “Well, that phase of my life is in the past now” and I just concentrated on the restaurant. It was probably early 2000s, there’s a jazz trio called The Bad Plus. Two of them are from Minneapolis, and they were playing a show and they had just released a record on Sony, These Are The Vistas, and they did a cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A friend of mine who was a regular customer and a huge music guy gave me a copy of the CD and said “hey, you should listen to this, I think you’d like it.” Right after that, they did an interview in a Minneapolis paper where Dave (King) and Reid (Anderson) were asked what their influences were. These are jazz guys, and they were like “growing up, Husker Du was a big influence on us,” and I was like “wow! That’s crazy!” I went to see them and loved the show. I wanted to introduce myself and say “hey, I really dig what you guys are doing!” and Dave immediately says “I have an idea for a band and you’d be the perfect bass player for it. So that became The Gang Font, which took maybe three years before we actually got together to play, but that was the impetus for me to get a bass amp again. I didn’t have any gear, so I bought a bass. 

Had you gotten so far out of music that you even sold all your equipment?

I still had my electric basses that I played with Husker, but they hadn’t been played in a lot of years and they needed to be cleaned up and tuned up and all that. I bought a cheapy Fender ¾ acoustic bass to play on and actually that’s still a bass that I’ll take with me to go camping and stuff like that. It’s a beater bass, but it works. It sounds good. That’s what got me back into playing bass. The Gang Font is sort of a hard group to nail down as far as what we are…

That is entirely accurate. I’ve spent a little time with The Gang Font stuff on Spotify. It’s definitely tough to nail down.

We actually have another album that we recorded thirteen years ago, in 2010, and I just saw Dave a couple weeks ago and we’re FINALLY going to try to get that released. After that, Casey Virock calling up and asking if I wanted to take over the bass spot in Porcupine is the only other thing really. Although recently, I have been in the studio and recorded a long improv kind of piece with Charlie Parr. He’s on the Smithsonian label, and he is a national treasure. He’s an acoustic player, but he’s also a guy who I met and was like “oh yeah, Husker Du had a huge impact on me.” That was fun playing with Charlie too. 

He’s from your area, right? He’s a Minnesota guy.

Yeah, he’s originally from Duluth I believe. 

I don’t remember when the official album release date was, because it feels like a lot of that stuff has become sort of a moving target since Covid, between digital releases and then physical CD releases and then vinyl releases. It seems for a lot of bands like there are always different release dates…but does it feel different now than it did releasing a Husker album forty years ago?

Yeah, it does. And this has been frustrating. We put this record out ourselves. We ordered 500 or 600 copies, and it’s a small order. There are so many pressing plants that have closed over the last couple of decades that a small order is not a priority for a lot of plants. Then you get people like Adele putting out an album or Taylor Swift or Beyonce, and all of a sudden everybody gets put on hold so they can press up three million copies or whatever. There kept being all of these delays in getting the vinyl. The vinyl is now finally on its way to the distributor. Here in Red Wing, I just got the box of record sleeves for the pre-sale so that I can autograph them! Finny will sign them on Sunday, then we’ll get those back over to London with the guy that is collating everything together, and then he’ll get the pre-orders all shipped out. So if you pre-ordered the vinyl, it’s coming! (*both laugh*) Hold tight, I promise this is for real this time! That’s been frustrating, and then the other goofy thing is that we wanted to have the record available, so we did release it digitally last year, so now we’re trying to get people excited and press excited, and they’re like “well this record came out last year…” and we’re like “yeah but the vinyl is coming! And we’re going on our first tour!” Back in the day, when the record came out, it came out! There was a drop date and you hit it. Hopefully for our next record, things will go a lot smoother. We’re working with DC-Jam Records here in the States and they’ll put out our next album, and they’ll also be distributing this one when it finally arrives at the distributor. They also made some CDs for us, so the stuff is coming!

For a band that started, met each other and wrote and recorded an album in four days, for it to take a year-and-a-half to finally exist physically has got to be mind-numbing!

Yeah! It came together so quickly and then it was just all of these delays and it was like “oh man, this is killing us!” 

If everything got pushed back because people ordered two million pressings of that Adele record, you know that 1.5 million of those are just sitting in thrift stores or the shelves at Target or Wal-Mart at this point. That was the wrong target market. 

Exactly!

That drives me nuts…and I don’t have a physical product that I’m trying to release into the world. I just get mad for all of you people who are creating the art and doing the work. I really applaud people who still put out music and stick to it. 

Yeah, I mean we had a lot of people who paid money on the pre-sale, and they’re still waiting…it’s crazy. 

And plus, you had the whole cancer bomb dropped right in the middle of all that…

Makes for an interesting last couple of years, to say the least! (*both laugh*) 

How are you now health-wise? You said before that things are good, all clear?

Yeah! Things are good. When they removed the prostate, the doctors said that it appeared that everything was contained, all of my margins were clean, all of my tests since then have come back clean, and that’s good. Actually, going down that journey, all of a sudden you start meeting all of these people that you know who go “oh yeah, I had that procedure done” or “oh I know somebody” or “oh, my dad had it done twenty years ago.” Prostate cancer is the number two cancer killer, and only because people usually don’t know they have it until it’s too late. I was lucky that something popped up on a regular blood test and it was like “you should go see a urologist.” So go out and get your prostate checked, all you men out there! (*both laugh*) 

Seriously! Go to your doctor’s appointments, go to your physicals, get your bloodwork done…

Right! Get the finger stuck up your bum. It’s all good! (*both laugh*) It only takes just a couple of seconds!

For someone who hasn’t gone through that yet, how long a process is it between when something pops up in your bloodwork and when you’re on the operating table and they’re taking out your prostate?

You know, the diagnosis happened pretty quick. They do an MRI, they do a biopsy, they confirm that it’s there. They kind of map out everything that they want to look at. Getting on the surgery schedule, then, actually took some time. That was a longer wait, but then the procedure itself, I was in the hospital for one night. They want you to get up and walk around and be active and get back to your regular normal life as quick as possible.

That’s amazing. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad you got checked out because like you said, too many people don’t until it’s too late. 

Thank you!

Since putting UltraBomb together and writing in the studio, has that prompted you to keep writing, whether it’s lyrics or other music? Do you have a lot of ideas to flesh out once you get on the road and start working together?

Oh yeah, sure. I keep writing lyrics all the time. Finny has been writing riffs for UltraBomb, so there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to get a record out – or get one recorded at least – most likely by the Fall. We’re going to even track some stuff on the road. The idea is that we might have a new single ready by the end of the tour, which is fantastic. 

Well if you have twenty-one days together, that’s like a quadruple album based on the way Time To Burn came together…

Right, exactly! Jamie last night was like “what if, for each show, we came up with a new song? Then at the end of the tour, we’d have 18 songs, and that’s a double album! Let’s do it!”

That’s old school, Husker/Minutemen style!

Yeah, Watt and I were talking about Double Nickels (On The Dime)…that was going to be a single album. They had it ready to go, and then we dropped Zen Arcade and they’re like “oh, they did a double album! WE better do a double album!” (*both laugh*) They went into overdrive to write the rest of that record. Even Joe Carducci from SST wrote lyrics for that record. He wrote “Jesus & Tequila.” It was just a fun back-and-forth between us and The Minutemen. We love those guys. Miss you D. Boon!

When a guy like Watt says “we were inspired by your band to raise the bar” because Zen Arcade was obviously an iconic album and then it lead to Double Nickels… which is a legendary album…does that still feel cool to know that it was that sort of competition between you created something like that?

It is, yeah. The SST camp back then was us, the Meat Puppets, Minutemen, then Saccharine Trust and of course Black Flag. But Meat Puppets, Minutemen and Husker, the three of us, I think that was the nucleus of SST at the time and of the stamp that they left on the world. Meat Puppets are still out and playing and it’s great that Derrick (Bostrom) is back in the band. I’m excited to hopefully see them out on the road. They aren’t on the road right now – Curt (Kirkwood) lives in Austin, I think Chris and Elmo (Kirkwood) live in Phoenix – so I hope they all come out and check us out. I’d love to see those guys. And of course Watt never stops.

He’s unreal. He really kinda is. I don’t understand how he just keeps going. And he does that show all the time on top of making music, and he always puts like three hours of music on each show…

Oh yeah, yup. He said he’s been doing that show for twenty-two years. Man…that is awesome.

He’s one of a kind. They definitely broke the mold with that one. 

Yeah, when you talk about going on the road, he’s like “well when ya shoving off?” and “where are you dropping anchor?”

Yeah, you really have to pay attention when he talks because he’s got so many Wattisms that take a minute to process sometimes…

Oh yeah, he’s his own pirate! (*both laugh*)

Thanks for doing this! I don’t want to take up too much of your afternoon and I try to be mindful of folks’ time. I really appreciate getting the chance to pick your brain even a little bit. As someone who grew up wanting to be a bass player for a while – and has long-since put that aside – but it was guys like you and Watt leading into guys like Ament in the “grunge” era who sorta revitalized your era’s sound, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. So I really enjoy getting to pick your brain!

Well thanks, I appreciate that!

And good luck on the road! I’m really excited for you guys to be able to be out there and I hope people show out for you. It’s a really good run, and a really good bill!

Yeah, I think they will! People are listening to it. If we’re coming through your town, go get your tickets! If we’re not coming through your town, follow us on Spotify or subscribe to our YouTube channel! We’re going to do a lot of content tor YouTube for this tour, maybe do some live streams, maybe do an UltraBomb travel log. Hopefully, the record will come out in stores while we’re on the road, and we’ll have copies of it on the road so people can come get it signed! 

It’s got to be a pretty cool thing still to have a physical copy of it when it finally shows up, yeah?

Oh I can’t wait to put it on the turntable! Being able to hold it is super exciting. 

Everybody go pick it up. Listen to UltraBomb. Like I said before, it is very much a quintessential “punk rock” record, and I mean that in the truest, most idealist sense of that term. My interest was piqued just by the original announcement…like “how are Greg Norton and Finny going to sound together…” It really does fit well. It’s really cool and really fun and hopefully you make your way to the Northeast some day. 

Oh yeah, definitely. We’re planning on a lot of US tours next year. East Coast, West Coast, all over. Finny got turned on to Husker Du when he was 18. He had just moved to London and he had just missed our show and he wanted to basically try to make his way in the London music scene, and then he heard Husker Du and he was like “oh shit, maybe Minneapolis is where it’s at!” The very first song that he sang (on this record) was “Time To Burn,” and it was funny, I had to tell him “Finny, stop trying to channel Bob (Mould). You’re not Bob. Just be Finny!” He couldn’t contain himself; it was like “oh man, here I am in a band with one of my childhood idols,” you know? He’s a great guy and a fantastic writer and musician and his sense of composition is awesome. And Jamie is just fucking amazing, that’s all I can say.

He’s playing with Mahones now too, right?

Yeah, he was just out with the Mahones in France, and he’ll be doing another tour in I think mid-June or July. He’s also drumming with Anti-Nowhere League right now, so he actually is going to fly home to London from Denver because he has Anti-Nowhere League stuff coming up that first weekend in June. I plan on coming home and relaxing a little bit, and he’s going to go home and go out on another punk rock tour. 

And yeah, speaking about Mahones covering “Makes No Sense At All” before, I could see that there are some hints of Husker on this record that I think people will enjoy. Not just because it’s a power rock trio, but there’s some of that feel.

It’s funny, I think a lot of that is just the way I play bass. Somebody commented after hearing it that it was like “wow, it’s cool hearing all those Husker basslines…” and it’s like, “well, no, those are Greg Norton basslines.” I play how I play, and I don’t really have a particular thing.

Did that change after fourteen years or whatever it was of not playing bass? Or was it just muscle memory when you went back to it? 

There was some muscle memory. I think Gang Font was a good project for me to get back into it, because Dave’s idea was to just let me play whatever I wanted to play, or to play however I heard the music. Erik Fratzke and Dave would write the music and a lot of times they would just start playing something and I would just start playing along however I felt like. I loved it. I’ve always been a big avant-garde jazz fan, so that was fun. 

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DS Interview: Jason White on reissuing Pinhead Gunpowder’s catalog on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records…and what’s coming next!

In addition to continuing to make music and regularly tour all corners of the globe as one of the bands that helped propel punk rock into the stratosphere three decades ago, one of the more unique and, frankly, impressive things about the Green Day camp has been their simultaneous maintenance of a seemingly unlimited network […]

In addition to continuing to make music and regularly tour all corners of the globe as one of the bands that helped propel punk rock into the stratosphere three decades ago, one of the more unique and, frankly, impressive things about the Green Day camp has been their simultaneous maintenance of a seemingly unlimited network of side projects featuring some – if not all – of the band’s core members (Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, obviously) and a cast supporting cast of friends and musicians. A quick and probably incomplete synopsis of all of the band members’ projects reads as less of a Green Day “family tree” and more like a Green Day “family wreath”: Armstrong and Dirnt and Cool appear alongside longtime “fifth Beatle” guitarist and collaborator Jason White, longtime touring guitarist Kevin Preston and longtime jack-of-all-trades Jason Freese in Foxboro Hot Tubs. Armstrong and Dirnt and White and longtime Green Day crew member Bill Schnieder and American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown/Uno!/Dos!/Tre!/Revolution Radio/Father Of All... engineer/producer Chris Dugan in The Coverups. Armstrong and Preston are joined by Jeff Matika and David Field in The Longshot. Armstrong and Cool and Dirnt and White definitely do not appear together in The Network. White and Schnieder and Schnieder’s brother Greg and Johnnie Wentz and Willie Samuels had The Influents up and running for a bit there too.

Perhaps the oldest of these projects – and undoubtedly one of the coolest – is Pinhead Gunpowder, a band that traces its roots back to the early 90s. The Berkeley-based iteration of the band featured Armstrong and Schnieder and Sarah Kirsch teaming up with the creative force that was former Crimpshrine drummer (and occasional Green Day roadie) Aaron Cometbus. The band played sporadically and recorded a couple EPs and a handful of tracks for various compilations and they all got combined on a quasi-full-length called Jump Salty that became one of the coolest records of 1994. It was released a few months after Green Day’s genre-defining Dookie, and yet, because it came out on Lookout Records instead of a major label, ownership of Jump Salty in your collection felt like a ticket to an exclusive club. While the masses were listening to (and buying, because it was a different time) Dookie and Smash and a smaller but still substantial group of people went as far as listening to Stranger Than Fiction and Punk In Drublic and Let’s Go!, listening to albums like Jump Salty felt like you were part of the cool punk rock kids club, whatever that even means at this point. 

Kirsch would leave Pinhead Gunpowder during that ground-breaking year but the band wouldn’t have to look far to find a replacement. Enter the aforementioned Jason White. The Arkansas transplant had been friendly with the band’s members for years, having befriended Armstrong after an ill-fated Green Day tour stop in Memphis earlier in the decade. Upon relocating to the Bay Area, he also joined Schneider as a member of East Bay pop punk band Monsula until that act disbanded in 1993. The Pinhead quartet of Cometbus, Armstrong, Schneider and White would put out another handful of EPs and compilations and, in 1997, their first-and-only full-length, Goodbye Ellston Avenue, all in a sound that remained true to the band’s East Bay, “Gilman Street” style and sound. (White, as you probably know by now, joined the Green Day ranks on the Warning tour in 1999 to fill out the live sound, making this his twenty-fifth year at stage right.) The band put out their last new material, the West Side Highway EP in 2008 and played their last show to date at 924 Gilman Street in 2010. They never really officially disbanded as much as they just focused on other projects: White and Armstrong and Schneider on the Green Day Family Wreath and Cometbus primarily on his writing and his consortium of independent bookstores in New York City

There was an ill-fated attempt at reissuing all of the Pinhead Gunpowder material in 2010 under the same record label, Recess Records in this case. (Earlier versions of their works appeared on Recess and Lookout Records and Adeline Records and Too Many Records and maybe a couple of others whose names escape me.) After laying dormant for the better (worse?) part of a decade, the project found itself resurrected a couple years back. Beginning two years ago this week, the band announced plans to team with Oakland’s own Steve Stevenson and 1-2-3-4 Go! Records to reissue their entire catalog in five two-part installments. Like everyone, the team behind the reissues ran into supply chain issues and vinyl production delays (thanks Adele!?!) but the close of 2022 brought with it the rerelease of Compulsive Disclosure and West Side Highway, marking the completion of the project, and meaning that for the first time, the band’s entire discography lives under the same roof. 

Yours truly had the distinct honor and privilege of catching up with the one-and-only Jason White to look back on the process of revisiting and reissuing the Pinhead Gunpowder catalog. As per usual when we conduct an interview on these pages, the conversation tended to meander in a lot of the best possible ways, covering ground that includes but is not limited to: meeting Pete Townshend; revisiting early Pinhead material after Kirsch’s 2012 death; White’s personal place in the annals of punk history; the neverending changes in the musical spectrum; the Little Rock, Arkansas, music scene; going to high school with Ben Nichols; 1-2-3-4 Go!’s importance to the East Bay arts and cultural landscape; and so much more. Scroll down to keep reading!

Green Day at Fenway Photo Credit: Brittany Rose Queen

Surprisingly, the following Q&A has been condensed and edited for content and clarity.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): First and foremost, thanks for doing this. When I saw that the email came in saying “do you want to talk to Jason White from Pinhead Gunpowder and Green Day?” I thought it was a joke. (*both laugh*) Then I realized it was from Chris Hnat – shoutout to Chris – but I’ve been a fan of yours for a long long time, so this is a really cool thing, one of those bucket list items to check off. So thanks!

Jason White: Cool! Cool! Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. 

I was talking to a couple of the guys who help run Dying Scene the other night, and we talked A) about how good the reissues have come out. One of our guys – Dylan – is real big on tracking a lot of the vinyl reissues and different variants of things that come out, and he was super stoked about them. And we were also talking about B) how cool it is that, at least for me and where I grew up, Pinhead Gunpowder was kind of like a secret handshake band. Like, a few of us kids were listening to punk rock before ‘94, listening to Bad Religion and Fugazi and especially the Lookout Records bands. And then ‘94 happened and so everybody liked Green Day, and we did too, but Pinhead Gunpowder was like the “secret handshake, oh you don’t just listen to Green Day, you listen to punk rock” band. 

A little more under-the-radar, yeah, I hear you. It felt like it was a little more underground and you had to dig it up.

Yeah and you felt like you were part of something, and like you knew more. It felt like a special thing. Anyway, I know we’re sort of at the end of the reissue cycle for the Pinhead records, so it can be kind of tough to figure out where to sort of start and how the story will go, but I wanted to actually talk about 1-2-3-4 Go! Records for a little bit, because that seems like a really cool place. For people outside the Bay Area, and I’m certainly one of them, 1-2-3-4 Go! Records isn’t just a cool underground label, it’s a record store as well. 

Yeah, and it actually had two locations for a bit. (Owner Steve Stevenson) had one in San Francisco as well. But yeah, it started in Oakland, and I believe he’s had it over ten years now. It might even go back fifteen. He started off on 40th (Street), between Telegraph and Broadway in Oakland, which used to be a little bit of a dead zone. He wanted to start a store, so he rented what essentially was a closet of a place. I always said that if there were three people in the place, it was crowded. (*both laugh*) He just had a few racks of records and it was just him in the back. We were just excited to have this new store, and it was small, and we were used to the only stores that stuck around were of course Amoeba Records and then one called Rasputin. They’re both great; Amoeba I kind of prefer. But anyway, it was kind of the start of having a small record store again. Now there’s several around, but he started in that closet of a place, then he ended up moving next door because he was doing well enough and he needed the space, obviously. Then he ended up across the street, where he is now. Then he expanded into the room next door too, so he’s occupying two retail spaces. It’s great; it’s awesome, and before Covid, he was having shows in the back. There was a stage, and he was having art shows and events, and it’s kind of turned into a whole crazy thing in addition to the label that he started with. 

It seems like it’s sort of a hub, and a lot of scenes don’t really have that kind of space anymore. I live just north of Boston and so I’m tangentially tied to the Boston scene, which is much different than it used to be. But we don’t have a lot of those sorts of places in the immediate area anymore; everything has sort of been gentrified out, so it’s cool that that sort of thing exists and seems to be thriving. 

Yeah! I’m just shocked that he did as well as he did because when he started talking about opening a little store, I was like “well, he’s got little overhead in that space,” and I’d worked at record stores in the past so I kinda knew how it worked. But then the vinyl – I don’t know if I’d call it a resurgence, but it became a thing again, right? So he kinda rode that wave and it’s still a thing – I don’t know if it’s peaking or not, but it seems like it’s still a thing.

It seems like it’s been peaking every year for the last decade. 

Yeah, and it keeps climbing up, and with Record Store Day and all this craziness. It’s great. 

It’s almost turned in the other direction with Record Store Day now, but that’s probably a different conversation for a different time.

Right, that’s the one day to not go to the record store! (*both laugh*)

I used to love it, man. I used to love standing in line in front of the record store, but then it turned into having to stand in line in the mall, because the major record stores around here all moved into the mall, which is a weird thing because malls are dying around the country, yet that’s where our Newbury Comics moved to. 

I was going to say, yeah, I remember the Newbury Comics stores. 

They’re still alright, and the one on Newbury Street is next door to where it used to be – and smaller than it used to be – so I appreciate the 1 2 3 4 Go! Records has expanded a few times, and the original Newbury Comics is not only much smaller but most of it isn’t music anymore. It’s kitschy things and Pop dolls…

Yeah, t-shirts and posters. I went into that (Newbury Street) location within the last five years when we were on tour, and I peeked in and yeah, it didn’t seem like there were many records anymore, it was more paraphernalia. 

They had standalone locations in suburbia, where I am, but they’ve all moved into malls now. So to have to go into the mall to buy records now, it’s like things went full circle a second time… Anyway, so I know that Recess Records had reissued the Pinhead records years ago, and that’s a whole other thing, but when did the idea to reissue them for real under 1 2 3 4 Go! Records come about? Was that during Covid?

It was before that, because I think it had just been long enough where we felt like we could talk about it or address it again. The Recess thing kinda just didn’t work, and we were like “well, it seems like everything’s a little bit hard to find, a lot of it is out of print at this point, and we kind of need to do something besides just having the records that are already out there and then having everything on streaming services.” And it was really easy – a no-brainer, really – because Steve is local, he’s right down the street, he’s a friend, we see him all the time, and he said he’d love to do it. And he said we could do it in these phases, so that it wasn’t just ten records at one time and everything gets lost in the shuffle. 

I was going to ask where that idea came from, because that was really neat to do basically five two-episode installments. 

I think it became like a 7-inch and an LP at the same time, and then a shirt. And we had never done shirts, so I was kind of more excited about that than anything! (*both laugh*) I do think that financially, it would have been hard to pay for everything right away, so it became “put phase one out, and then as money starts coming in you can pay for phase two” and so on. And that way it would keep things on people’s radar, like “oh, a new Pinhead thing will be out every six months” or whatever it was. It seemed like an okay idea. We wanted to kind of do what we tried to do with Recess, which is to have one home for everything so we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s all under one rough and it’s easy to manage. That was the thought behind it really. 

And this is the first time it’s really been under one roof. I guess it sort of was for Recess, but that didn’t work out. 

Yeah, that’s true. Everything came out on different labels.

Did that mean buying rights back or anything? How involved was that process?

No, Pinhead always owned everything. That was not an issue, really. 

They’re not necessarily remastered or remixed or anything; was there talk of doing that as well?

For the Recess thing, I might be wrong, but when we were moving forward with it, we kinda did remaster everything, so everything was kinda done. This is actually kind of a funny story, but I think we had mastered it for CD maybe at that time, so everything had kinda been done, and we were like “well, let’s listen to it and if everything is fine we don’t have to do anything to it.” We ended up having to redo a few things for vinyl, and the mastering person we used – I worked at Adeline Records years ago when Pinhead did the records there, and this guy Ken Lee, who was in Oakland at the time, he’s still working and mastering stuff, but he had moved, and unbeknownst to me, he lives five houses down from me, on the same side of the street. 

(*both laugh*) That’s pretty wild!

Yeah, it’s really strange! Bill had to come to my house to pick something up, because I had some of the original source material maybe, and he was here and he was like “well, Ken Lee is actually in El Cerrito now” – which is where I live – “and he’s actually on this street” and I’m like “that’s my street” and we looked at the address and I was like “that’s that house right over there.” It ended up being an even smaller world than it already was. 

That’s really bizarre, yeah.

It made things really easy to get him materials. So I became in charge of that.

So you’re ultimately happy obviously with how everything came out? Like I said, our record radar guru, Dylan, was saying they came out awesome, and he’s pretty discerning about that stuff. 

In terms of sound quality, it was a little hard to approve the test pressings, because I kept A/B-ing stuff, and when we first started, I was like “I don’t know if it’s as good as the original.” And you had to consider how things used to be mastered twenty or thirty years ago versus how they’re mastered now, or how hot they make (the vinyl) now. Initially, I didn’t think it was hot enough, but then they sorta don’t do that anymore because you end up with records that skip and all kinds of things like that. And they sounded fine, I just had to maybe turn it up a little louder than the old version. But it didn’t distort or anything like that, so yeah, I was happy that it all came out great. And Aaron is very detailed. He does all the art, and everything I thought came out awesome. And Steve worked with him and other people and they got it done. They came out great. 

Did you run into any of the almost comically long vinyl production issues that people were running into during Covid? Because I feel like the originally-scheduled end of this project was like nine months ago or something like that?

Yeah, we did, all over the place. I think as early as Phase Two, we were like “well, it’s going to take a little longer.” (*both laugh*) Anybody who’s making records now knows that it takes forever. You’re on a waiting list and it’s just a mess. We definitely ran into some of that. He gets them pressed in England somewhere, so we didn’t run into a lot of the usual stuff for the US plants that I’ve heard about. United in Tennessee is very backed up, I think. And honestly, I don’t even know what’s left down in LA from when I used to work at labels and stuff.

I don’t know either, but there aren’t many in my very limited understanding of it.

There used to be a ton but they all pretty much went out of business. Now I think there’s a bunch of new ones, I’m just not familiar with them.

I don’t know of any new ones, truthfully, but then being tied to the punk rock world, I feel like so much stuff gets produced in the Czech Republic by Pirates Press.

I have heard that too. And I have friends with smaller labels that’ll press stuff at a small place in Chicago, and then there’s one in Australia that’ll do like one-offs of like 50 or something.

That’s gotta cost a fortune. 

It does, but if you’ve got somebody that has a record that’s not going to sell a ton, you’ve got a cool artifact. It might cost six bucks a 7-inch or whatever, but it seemed worth it, I guess. 

It didn’t really dawn on me before, but the last new Pinhead Gunpowder stuff is like fifteen years old now. I think West Side Highway was ‘08. 

Yeah, that sounds about right. Going back and listening to everything, the way we did it, since we did the phases, I started with the oldest stuff first and got to the most recent stuff at the end, so it was like riding the arc again. Listening to the first record, I was a fan of the band before I was in it. And (Sarah) Kirsch, who was in the band before, has passed on, so it was sentimental to hear that stuff, because I hadn’t listened to it in so long. But everything made me happy to listen to, still. Some stuff stuck out to me that used to not.

Did all four of you relisten to everything and, like you said, A/B stuff for the project? 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. And then some of it got a little confusing in the later stuff because we were like “wait, what record was that on? Or wait, we put out live versions of stuff? I don’t remember that…” We had some stuff from KALX, a radio station here in Berkeley, that I didn’t remember at all. I mean, I remembered doing it, but I didn’t remember it being released on anything. It was cool to listen to the different phases, and to listen to it as “a release.” I guess I always thought of it as “we got together and wrote some songs,” and we had bits and pieces we would either leave behind and then pick up later, or whatever. But it was cool to think about it as a release. So when I hear Shoot The Moon, I think “oh, this one’s a little more loose.” But then …Ellston Avenue was tight and well-recorded or whatever. And the other stuff had its own sort of personality. That was the most interesting part about going back to it. 

I know Aaron wrote a lot of the material for Pinhead, but when you guys came together to record, was it like banging it out in a couple days, or were there longer recording sessions? 

It kinda varied on each record, but most of the time it was “okay, we have this two weeks to put everything together, so let’s hammer out the songs, practice as much as we can, and then go record them.” Sometimes we’d change stuff, especially vocals. You hear clearer when you’re in the studio and you can make a few decisions there. So usually, it was like “this is the allotted time for the project,” and we’d hash it out in two weeks most of the time. Ellston Avenue took a little bit longer, because it was our only attempt at doing an LP’s worth of stuff at one time. Usually it was five or six songs or whatever.  

Ellston Avenue is a tight-sounding record, and a big-sounding record as Pinhead records go. Was there ever talk of making it more of a stand-alone thing, and taking it on the road more? I mean, it was always going to be at least number two to Green Day obviously, but the band never went out on the road an awful lot. Was there ever talk amongst you four about doing it as a bigger “thing,” or would that have been almost impossible given how big Green Day was?

Yeah, I think, in my mind, it was always going to be a project that we could do when everybody had time. Obviously, Green Day stayed busy all through the years, so most of the time we’d be like “we just wanna write some songs together, record some stuff, go play a few shows.” We’d done a couple of mini-tours here and there, like we went up to the Pacific Northwest, to Seattle and back years ago. We went to LA at one point and kinda played around there. It was never really “let’s put the push behind this one and tour it” and all that stuff. It was always just sort of a meeting of the minds or whatever.

But they’re such fun records! And I say this knowing that I live 3,000 miles away and would have never had the chance to see the band anyway, but I feel like that’s stuff that people would enjoy hearing live. Do you miss playing some of those songs live, even semi-regularly?

Oh yeah! I mean whenever we got together to play shows, which was more often than we recorded…I mean, Pinhead is super fun to play live with because it has its own feeling and setting and tempos and energy. It was great, I loved it and hopefully we will do it again soon. 

Well that was certainly going to be a question, but now that the revisit has wrapped up, does that stoke the fires amongst any of you to play some shows for the first time in ten or fifteen years or whatever it is?

Yeah, I think if all the stars align soon…we’ve been talking about it for the last couple years, even before we were doing the rereleases, like, if Aaron came into town – the rest of us all live here in the Bay Area – we would get together and just jam at the practice space and play these songs randomly, it was always super fun, but it would always be like “oh, we should play a show…but I’ve gotta leave by Tuesday” or whatever. So it didn’t end up working out, but hopefully we’re going to do it soon!

Where does Aaron live? I always just picture him in the Bay Area. 

He’s in New York! He’s been there for a while now, and he’s doing great out there. He’s the owner of a collective that has bookstores out there. They’re really cool. He’s doing great out there. 

Is that why the rest of you did other projects – The CoverUps, Foxboro Hot Tubs, The Longshot…not The Network, obviously…so with Aaron 3000 miles away, let’s work on some other projects?

Yeah, like “we’re around…what else can we do?”

I’ve always appreciated that about that whole Green Day crew. That it didn’t stay just Green Day, that you did all these other projects that were creative and under different names and done independently, and more traditional to what I think we envision the whole East Bay scene to represent.

That’s how Bill Schnieder and I ended up doing The Influents+, the band that we had for a little while. I’d come back to town – I was out of town for a couple years and I came back to do Shoot The Moon, and then once we finished that, I just stayed here. We were like “well, what should we do now?” That phase of Pinhead was done and everyone kinda went their own ways, and I was like “well, I’ve got a few songs” and he was like “well, my brother’s got a few songs, let’s start another band.” It was just kind of the natural progression of things.

Did you go back to Little Rock in between?

I did, I went home to Arkansas for a couple years, between ‘96 and ‘98. I went back to play with some friends in a band called The Big Cats, and we gave it a shot for a minute, and then my dad became ill and I stayed behind to help take care of him. Then I came back here and stayed. 

We talked earlier about the scene that is the Bay Area, and related to that, Little Rock had a pretty cool scene of its own. If people don’t know about Little Rock, Towncraft is such a great movie.

Oh you know of it!

Yeah, I’ve watched it a couple times! I think I stumbled upon it on Amazon one day, and I would watch almost exclusively either live sports or music documentaries, but this was so well done, and it throws back to that underground scene. I knew nothing of the Little Rock scene aside from that you’re from there and Ben Nichols is from there.

Right! Yeah, I went to high school with Ben. He’s great. We had art together; I think I was one year older than him…maybe we were in the same grade, it’s tough to remember. But I knew him. He was in bands obviously and so we were in the same scene. 

It’s such a great snapshot of a scene that I’m not sure exists in too many places anymore. That sort of real, underground, junior high and high school kids starting their own scene and then it becomes this beautiful, a little bit incestuous, sort of thing. I don’t know of many places where that sort of thing exists in this country anymore.

I know, it’s tough to tell. I think there probably are, I just don’t know about them. But not in the same way, especially because of the way we consume things or look things up or find out about them, that part has completely changed, so I don’t know if it is even possible. It was a special time, I think. That was my friend Richard Matson who made that documentary about that time. A lot of cool things came out of that scene. I was stoked to find those people when I did. 

I had known of Red 40 a little bit – posthumously, of course…I don’t think their influence really made it to New Hampshire where I grew up, necessarily. But I think it was through watching that documentary that I realized “oh wait, that’s Colin from Samiam!” I obviously knew him as playing drums for Samiam but he was the guitar player from Red 40…

It’s funny because Colin is the oldest friend that I have.

Amazing drummer too, by the way.

He’s the best. I’m so glad that he gets recognition through Samiam, because he’s incredible. We were in our earliest bands together. He was the first person I ever played music with. He co-wrote a couple of the Pinhead things that I did. But about the Red 40 thing…Colin was always known as a drummer, because he’s incredible. Everybody wanted him in their band. But Ben wanted to kinda do this new project, he wanted to start a new band, but it seemed like everyone was already in another band, and so in order not to pinch from other bands, he asked Colin to switch roles and play guitar, and then the guitar player in Colin’s band at the time, Substance, this guy Steve Kooms, switched roles and he played drums. Steve was a pretty good drummer, Colin was a pretty good guitar player, and Ben just wanted to do something different, you know? So he wrote these songs and they ended up recording them almost off-the-cuff. Now I think it’s one of the best-known things out of Little Rock, at least from that scene. 

I haven’t seen it happen at Lucero shows, but when you go see Ben solo, like, we drove down to New Jersey a couple weeks ago because he does a one-off every year in Jersey, of all places, at a place called Crossroads, and it’s awesome, and people always yell for Red 40 songs. They clearly only know them from the Lucero connection, the same way I do, but people always yell out Red 40 songs and it’s kind of a cool thing. It’s gotta be cool for him.

Does he ever end up playing some?

He does sometimes. He didn’t last time, but sometimes he’s got one worked up and it depends how the whiskey is flowing by the middle of the night. (*both laugh*) But yeah, I really dig that documentary and sort of like I was saying at the beginning, we had like six kids who listened to punk rock. In New Hampshire, we had little pockets of kids here and there around the state who were into the music, but not enough to probably qualify as a scene, necessarily, but I think we all looked at the Bay Area, the Easy Bay especially, as a special thing, because it wasn’t LA, it wasn’t New York and the hardcore scene – frankly, it wasn’t the Boston hardcore scene which was never really my thing anyway, we all kinda gravitated toward the Bay Area scene and that became the music that we listened to. But to know that there were other places where there were these people just a little older than us and putting these organic little scenes together, it was wonderful. People should watch it. I don’t even know where you can get it now. 

Yeah, I don’t know? I think it’s probably on Amazon.

Thanks for doing this. It’s been really cool to follow the Pinhead reissues and to have Pinhead Gunpowder sort of trending on a lot of the punk rock social media pages and record websites. To have that stuff trending again is pretty cool.

Yeah, I agree. I used to sort of be of the mindset of “oh, why reissue everything? Everyone that wants those records already has them, or they can get them if they look hard enough.” But I’m stupid and I forget that younger people might just be getting into it now and will be like “well, I want that, how do I get it?” I’m just dumb enough that I never considered that. But I’m very happy that it’s all out there and available and if anyone is getting hip to it now, that’s awesome. 

I forget who I heard talk about a similar thing…Jack White, maybe…but about how stuff shouldn’t be out of print. Obviously he’s got his own label and his own printing press and all that, but I think it was him saying that music should be accessible and available. That people are always finding out about music and they should be able to go out and buy it.

Yeah, there’s value in that. I see that now. I used to feel like “well, we made enough.” I figured nobody else was going to want it. I forget that I’m getting old (*both laugh*) and that younger generations might be interested. 

I’ve got a fifteen-year-old, and there are kids in high school that are starting to listen to that era of punk rock now, and that didn’t happen really through middle school. There are kids who listen to and love Green Day, and to me, that’s awesome, and it’s really awesome that they’re falling in love with the same band that we did thirty years ago. 

Yeah. Everyone has their own entry point, at whatever age they might be at whatever time, and it’s really neat to see how it all works out.  

Do you ever think about where you fit into that whole thing? And maybe that’s a weird thing to even think about, or a super ego-y thing to think about. 

Gosh, no, not really. A little bit as recently as last night. We played a Coverups show last night out in this suburb called Walnut Creek, and I said goodbye to my kids and I started driving to go play the show, and I was thinking “well, I’ve pretty much been doing this same thing for thirty plus years…is it weird? No, because it just seems normal. But I think of so many people that I’ve known over the years don’t do it anymore or whatever, so I’m like, well, this is what I set out to do. I just wanted to play music and be in bands and it worked out somehow, you know?” I still always look up to the people who came before me, probably way too much.

(*both laugh*) Yeah, I think we all do.

I think I’m still trying to maybe impress them, you know? That’s still on my mind.

Do you have a running list of people that you’ve looked up to and been able to meet that you check off? Like The Stones and people like that?

There’s a few, yeah. That list grows all the time. Sometimes I’m a little shy about it these days, because essentially I’m like “well, I’m just bothering this person.” I’ll say a quick thank you, I appreciate what you’re doing. 

I feel like as a guitar player, you can talk to guitar players …

Yeah, you can talk a little shop. There’s a guitar player that’s younger than me that I approached and just made a fool of myself. I was like “you’re my favorite guitar player on the planet” and he just sort of was really embarrassed for me, I think. It was Paul Maroon of The Walkmen. And I just think he’s incredible. But then it goes both ways. I got the opportunity to talk to Pete Townshend a couple months ago, because we played a charity event with them, and I just got like a quick 30 seconds to a minute to say “Hi Pete, how ya doing? Do you remember me?” I didn’t really want to bother him, he didn’t really want to be bothered, so it was a cool exchange and that was fine! 

And now I can say I talked to a guy who talked to Pete Townshend! I’ve actually talked to a couple and it’s wild to me that I have even that connection. 

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DS Interview: Rebuilder’s Sal Ellington on “Local Support,” the band’s reenergized new album (and label shopping, and #thebiz, and Salfies, and much more)!

The list of things that can get in the way of a band releasing new music out into the world is a long and winding one. Band member changes, creative lulls, global pandemics, Adele misreading the market and pressing like 500,000 copies of an album that’s destined for thrift store shelves, national social and political […]

The list of things that can get in the way of a band releasing new music out into the world is a long and winding one. Band member changes, creative lulls, global pandemics, Adele misreading the market and pressing like 500,000 copies of an album that’s destined for thrift store shelves, national social and political unrest, record labels going belly-up at the last minute due to the indiscretions of someone in their orbit, etc. Or, if you’re Boston punks Rebuilder, some combination of all of the above.

In what I guess is the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known and been friendly with the foursome (Sal Ellington and Craig Stanton -vocals/guitar, Daniel Carswell – bass, and Brandon Phillips – drums) that is the core of Rebuilder for just about as long as Rebuilder have existed as a band. Their 2015 debut full-length, Rock And Roll In America, is one of my favorite albums that has come out of this area since I started writing for Dying Scene a dozen years ago, and their follow-up EP, 2017’s Sounds From The Massachusetts Turnpike, is even better.

And yet, as wonderful and honest as those records were and as formidable and authentic a live band as Rebuilder have been, there is also the sense that that could have – probably should have – been more successful if not for being seemingly snake-bitten at many turns. The music industry being what it is, the economics involved with being in a band that takes off when you’re closer to 30 than 20 are different now than they were a generation ago, and so when label support is either lackluster or never materializes, or pre-Covid tours fall apart (looking at you, Europe circa 2017), it can test the intestinal fortitude of band members with growing responsibilities and wavering desires to continue the “grind” well into their thirties.

With some of that as a backdrop, Rebuilder set to work on the follow up to …Mass Turnpike several years ago. What eventually turned into Local Support – which was officially released on August 11th on Iodine Recordings – became a labor of love and devotion in the very truest senses of those words. After years of false starts and working through both internal and external issues, the band reconvened and put out what sounds like their most focused collection of songs yet; eleven tracks that are about as honest and soul-bearing as you could ask for, with myriad influences woven through the mix, creating increased color and texture that broaden the scope of their pop punk infused roots. Panic State Records, which released their first two records, has folded, so after an extended period of shopping the record, they finally landed with a new label home, associated with a certain Pittsburgh political punk band. And we all know how that turned out. At what was seemingly the 11:59 hour mark, Iodine Recordings swooped in and saved the proverbial day and the album came out – at least digitally – as expected on August 11th.

Rebuilder plays their long-awaited album release show tonight – September 1st – at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, and they’re playing alongside a powerhouse lineup that includes No Trigger, Choke Up, and Trash Rabbit. Tickets are still available. Keep scrolling here, not only to listen to Local Support (seriously, you should do that…it’s great!) but to check out our long and far-reaching interview with Sal Ellington, the band’s one-of-a-kind co-frontman. Sal has been in and around the music industry for most of his adult life – hell he’s even got a degree in music business – and he’s got a very unique take on the state of the industry that he delves into in his periodic #TheBiz Instagram feed. He’s also better known in some circles for his “Salfies,” which grew out of a crude tour joke and ended up becoming a mechanism for helping to tackle years of fear and doubt and insecurity. This was a fun and compelling one…we talk a lot about the various starts and stops that went into the writing and recording process, the state of the band’s various members and their renewed commitment to the cause, the use of songwriting as a way to process mental health struggles, and obviously the snafu with their previous label and trying to find a new one at the very last of possible minutes. Enjoy!

(The following has been edited and condensed for content and clarity’s sake. Yes, really. It also picks up semi-midstream but you’ll catch up pretty quickly.)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Well Iodine Recordings is putting the record out. How did that come about so quickly? Obviously, this whole situation has been shitty for everyone involved for the last few weeks.

Sal Ellington (Rebuilder): It has been a fucking nightmare.

So that’s an interesting place to start, and I wasn’t sure how comfortable you were talking about some or all of that…

You can ask me about whatever. Part of (Iodine) taking it over, was for the record to come out on the 11th. I wanted the record to be out before the record release show weekend. The set for that show is heavy on new stuff, and it doesn’t make any sense for us to go out and play a whole bunch of new songs if nobody knows them. When we were originally in talks with A-F, they wanted it to come out on September 1st and I said we needed to move it back a couple weeks so that people have a chance to hear the songs and get to know the songs before the show. So that’s still the plan with Iodine taking over. However, I think the delay will be in getting the pre-orders out for people. The pre-orders were involved in this snafu. The record plant reached out to me and were cool. They said “Hey, we saw everything that happened. Is anything changing with this release?” And we said, “Yeah, is there any way you can take the (A-F Records) logo off?” And they could, so they took the logo off and kept pressing the record, which was awesome. I’m stoked that they did that. However, it delayed when it was going to get in the hands of either A-F or us.

With the logo now off of the record itself, because A-F used to do things piecemeal, we now had to talk to whoever was doing the jackets, and I think the jackets are too late to be redone. I think the jackets are already on their way to us, and I think that I just connected with the people who did the jackets this morning and they said “Send us the new artwork, we’ll see what we can do.” Literally an hour ago I got a notification that said something like “The jackets are being shipped to you, look at your shipping times.” So, we might be too late for that part now. So I said to Iodine, if we need to do new jackets, if that’s the one thing we have left, then we need to find someone to rush order new jackets because we have a tour that we haven’t really announced yet that’s happening in September, so I need records for our release show and I need records for the tour. That’s basically where we’re at for now; trying to make sure that we have records for both of those things, which we will, it’s just a matter of are they going to have an Iodine Recordings logo, or are they going to have a Rebuilder sticker covering up an A-F Records logo…

I was going to say, can’t they print out Iodine stickers that match the same color and slap them over there? I mean, it’s a pain in the ass, but I feel like that’s not super uncommon and it’s less of a pain in the ass than printing all new jackets. 

Yeah, I ordered the stickers already, and I think they’ll actually be at my house today, so I have to have my roommate ship those to A-F because there are pre-orders that need to go out. But it’s one of those things where Iodine was like “You’ve worked so hard on this record, we don’t want you to have to put the record out with a sticker over it, making it look haphazard and unprofessional, so if all we have to do is order new sleeves, then let’s just do that. 

What a shitty situation but at least you’re rolling with it and making the best of it. 

Yeah, I think we’re trying to make the best of it and I think it’s one of those things where none of us wanted to deal with this. This is not what I had planned for the release of something that I’ve spent so long working on. I think that Chris Stowe, who runs A-F Records, certainly never wanted this to happen either, as well as anyone else who is attached to any fallout from Anti-Flag, from the victims to the people who work for the band. There are people who have lost their careers due to this. We didn’t lose our career, so I feel like what we have to go through is annoying for us, but it’s not this life-changing thing.

Oh for sure, you have to compartmentalize that stuff. And it seems like A-F was just gearing up to put out a whole bunch of new things between now and the rest of the year, and so there are a handful of bands who are in similar situations where the gears are already turning and things are too far along. 

It would have been one of those things had it just been an announcement that we had signed to A-F and there would be an album in the Fall. We could have just made an announcement like “We’re just not on A-F anymore, we’re going to take some time to figure out who is going to put it out,” and that’s it. Or if it had been a year after our record came out, we could have been like “It’s terrible what happened. We’re not on A-F anymore, any copies that we make going forward from this are just going to be on our own.” Instead, we’re right in the middle. (*both laugh*) Things are literally shipping now, and every single hour of the day for me is spent trying my hardest to basically do chaos control on this thing as well as doing my actual job, and trying to finish doing this tour, and all the stuff that comes with it. Yeah, it’s not what I envisioned for this record.

Seriously, first full-length record in eight years or whatever it is and this is the hand your dealt.

Yeah. I know it’s our second full-length, but I always felt like (Sounds From The) Massachusetts Turnpike was our second real record. It’s not as many songs, but I do always think about that when I think about that record. So then this is our third record, for sure. I think it’s our strongest, and I do really, really love this record a lot, and I hope people do too, which is why I don’t want anything distracting from this record or taking away from it. Behind the scenes, there are a lot of things distracting from this record and it’s like…thank god I don’t post every single minute of every single day what’s going on with it, because I can get mentally fried with it. But I just want people to know that the record is coming out, it’s going to be a bit delayed getting to you, but it will still be out digitally on all the streaming sites anyway. You’ll just have to give it a bit til you get your copy in the mail. I hope that people understand that the delay in getting their copies in the mail is that we now have to deal with all the bullshit that came along with this. What the customer has to deal with is getting the record a little bit later than they would have They’ve had to deal with that with records that didn’t go through anything problematic, they had to go with it just because Taylor Swift put out a record and bumped other people’s. 

Oh for sure, everyone is used to that since Covid. I can’t remember a record coming on time. Except maybe the Dave Hause record because I don’t think he announced the record until he had the physical copies or something like that, so that when people pre-ordered it they were just sending it out from Tim’s garage. But that’s a different way of doing it.

It’s funny because Dave was one of the people who early on called me about this record. He knew I was trying to find a home for this record so I sent it to a ton of friends and asked what they thought about it and who should put it out…all those questions you go through every time you put our a record. It’s almost half a year or a year of pitching it to people when you don’t have a home for your record. And I sent it to Dave and he said “Well, what do you want to happen with this record, man? Where do you want it to go?” And I said “Well, these are the labels I was thinking of. This is where I think it should go because I want the most eyes on it, because I think it’s important.” And he was like “Yeah, man, but why don’t you just release it yourself? That’s what I do with my records?” And I was like “Yeah man, but you have a huge audience, you know?” And he was like “Well, how many records did you sell when you did it on your own for the live record.” So I told him and amount, and he was like “Alright, I do probably the same number, just scaled up by X amount. It’s all a matter of how you scale it. I think that you guys could do the same thing. Put out the record on your own, it’s going the mean the most to you anyway. Pay for the PR and do it that way.” And I would have done it that way, for sure. It’s nice to know that we can do that. I just think that we went with A-F because they have a great presence at FEST, and we always do really well at FEST, and Chris Stowe who ran the label is a great friend and has always supported bands who have been on it. We’ve had friends who have been on their label and they did well. It wasn’t going to blow us up, but it’s people that believe in the record, so that’s why we decided to go with them. I think Dave was right, we could put it out ourselves, but having it in the hands of people who believe in it was the way to go. That’s why now, working with Iodine is working with people who believe in it and believe in our band. 

Did they reach out to you after the A-F thing or did you hit them up?

They did. They reached out to us.

That’s got to be a good feeling. 

For sure. I was like “I’m not going to start reaching out to labels when this is supposed to be out in less than a month.” Like, how do you sell that to anyone? (*both laugh*) Hi! I have this record coming out and now it’s attached to this controversy, do you want to put it out now?”

Right! “Hey, do you want to wade into this shitstorm?”

For sure. But I know that Iodine has worked with Jay Maas who recorded this record, and they talked to him about it and asked if he thought Rebuilder would be interested in having them help put the record out. And the thing is, nobody HAD to come to us to help with our record, so the fact that they did come to us and say “Here’s what we can do, let’s jump on a call immediately and try to make this happen,” I really appreciated that. 

Had they heard it at that point?

I think they had. I think Jay had sent it over when we were looking for a label, but I don’t think that we ever had the conversation because I think once they saw that we were talking to A-F, they were like “Yeah, that makes sense.” There are more bands already on that label with our sort of poppier punk sound than there were on Iodine. But I’m glad they had seen a position to help and that’s what they jumped on. So I think they had heard it already, I just didn’t know if they liked it (*both laugh*). I never really know. You always hear things like “Iodine liked your record” and it’s always like, “Well, what does that mean? Does that mean they think it’s a cool thing that we’re creating, or does it mean that they want to be a part of it?” I remember early on, someone was like “Oh, so-and-so at SideOneDummy really likes what you’re doing.” And I was like “Wow, that’s cool!” And then that was the end of the conversation. (*both laugh*) I was like, “Okay, so what do I do with this information?” (*both laugh*) Like, “Oh good, another thing to think about…” I’m pretty sure I did think about it for a solid month straight before I just finally stopped.

I’m really excited for people to hear this record. I’ve finally had a chance to dig into it the last couple of days, and it’s really good. I don’t just say that because I’ve known you guys forever; it’s really a good record. I know that it’s super cliche to say that you hit another level or whatever, but I feel like you really pushed yourselves. It’s really good.

Thanks! Yeah, I do feel like it’s our most diverse record in terms of what we were trying to accomplish on it. I just never know if that’s going to mean anything to an audience or in general. I always feel like we’re a band that’s still growing. We can’t just announce a show and have it sell out right away. And because I think we’re still growing, I get concerned with, like, “Are we allowed to do this? Are we allowed to be weird and different?” I think a band like Turnstile can do that and it’s a home run, you know what I mean?

Yeah, but it wasn’t a home run until they did it. They took some chances and it worked. I like when people do that. Obviously, it’s fine to have a sound or something that keeps you grounded, but I like that people continue to grow. You’re not 20 or 30 anymore, you know?

I think it’s cool when bands take chances. There are definitely times when bands take chances though and you’re like “Well, I wish they hadn’t done that” and I don’t want to be on that side of it, you know? 

That last song especially, “Disco Loadout,” it’s got pedal steel on it so obviously it’s an Americana song, and yet it’s got horns on it so obviously it’s a ska song, and yet, it’s very much a Rebuilder song. For some reason, those things fit contextually with that song, but it doesn’t sound like any other Rebuilder song. 

What’s funny is we had probably played that song a couple of songs live back when …Mass Turnpike came out. Around that time, anyway. When we were looking at what songs would be on …Mass Turnpike, that was a song we liked a lot, but you need the journey to get to that song. To end an EP on it feels like you didn’t give people enough time to get there and to understand it. In the Rebuilder Venn diagram, it doesn’t fall smack in the middle. But I always had the ambition for how the song should go, with the pedal steel and the horns and everything. It really needed to be recorded and heard for people to listen to it and get it. Craig (Stanton) was like that too. He said, “I really didn’t see this song coming to be the way that it was, and I’m glad that you followed through on it.” I’m super happy with how that song came out. I think it’s super cool. I think it’s a really ambitious song but at the same time, I think that the skeleton of the song is still a good song. I’ve always thought that you know that a song is a good song if you can listen to it as a country version or a punk rock version or a ska version, it’ll sound good however you do it because the songwriting stands up. That’s how I view that song. 

Between that one and “Look Down Club,” I think I might have a couple of new favorite Rebuilder songs. That “Look Down Club” is a cool song.

I like that song a lot. I think that was an older one too. I think we at least had the idea of that song around during …Mass Turnpike and it was in the column of “this could be on a full length.” But we didn’t have the key parts written until the end. We always add keys at the very, very end, and I think the keys made that song sound so cool. I think it’s a very cool song to open up Side B.

Yeah, that big intro to it…if it wasn’t going to kick off Side A, it makes sense to have it kick off Side B. Or to kick off a show. Starting that side of the record with “Look Down Club” and ending it with “Disco Loadout” is pretty gnarly. 

Yeah, and I think Side A has, I think, so many bangers and so many hooks that we needed Side B to have its own weight, and I think it has its own weight in a different way, for sure. That song could open a set, but I think you could also close a set with it too. It fits so many things. It’s super cool. I like a lot of the guitar work we do on it. In the studio, you cn adjust add more stuff on top of it and keep adding, which is what I love to do. Then it just kinda takes on its own thing.

At least vocally, this is a very “Sal” record. It’s much more you than Craig out in front; I feel like Craig has maybe two that are essentially his, at least vocally.

One of the things that happened with this record was, I think it was right before the pandemic, the end of the year before, we kinda had the idea to record maybe seven of the songs that we had? I think we had been doing a lot and we basically got to a point where everyone in the band was kinda burnt out from having to grind really hard and maybe sometimes not have a lot of reward for it. You can only grind so hard and not get anything for so long before you think “why do I keep doing this?” But I think we’re all friends who love playing with each other and it’s fun for us to do. As much as I wish we made enough money from this band where this was everyone’s full-time job, and then we can focus on this and, yes, life happens but we’re able to provide for our lives because of this…we can’t do that.

So when life is happening, like, for example, around the time that Daniel (Carswell, bass) was newly sober and he wasn’t really super in love with having to be on tour and go into clubs and be around people who are drinking all the time, because he was still trying to figure out how to be sober. And Brandon (Phillips, drums) had taken on a new job and he and his wife had already had talks about having a kid. And then Craig I think around then joined a local hockey thing that he started being a part of and he didn’t really have a lot more songs to contribute to this, and he wanted to do something else. My goal was that I wanted to keep doing Rebuilder and I wanted to do this record, and I was about to have a complete mental breakdown from everyone being like “This is where we are in life, and maybe where we are in life isn’t aligning with where you want things to be with Rebuilder right now.” I was like “Well, let’s go into the studio and record what we have,” and that got cut down from like seven songs to I think five songs. No, it got cut down from eight to five, and I think there were three songs that Craig thought needed more time to develop, but he thought the other five were strong. We did go in and record those five and we got them down and we did that whole session and then the pandemic happened. The record got put on the back burner because we aren’t practicing, we aren’t seeing each other. Everything else takes on precedence ahead of making a record.

So then me and Daniel are living together still at the time and in my mind I still want to finish this record, whatever that means. I don’t even know who we can play with or anything. It was a solid year of making more demos in the house with Daniel and then when the riots happened with Black Lives Matter, after George Floyd, I was like “Well, I don’t want to work on demos for this record anymore because I’m too caught up in what’s happening socially.” So I wrote “Monuments,” and we went in the studio and recorded that. Brandon couldn’t play on that because he was still living in his in-law at the time and we couldn’t really get together, but Harley from Choke Up was free and he had been playing with us at times anyway, so he came in and we recorded it and we put it out and we raised money for Black Lives Matter. Then, during that time, months later, we went back in the studio, and I had some demos of me, Harley and Daniel, and it was kind of the first time I had written songs that I wasn’t bouncing off of Craig, and I didn’t know if I was confident enough in my songwriting ability to just depend on myself. But, at the same time, I kinda had to be, you know? So “Telephone,” “Hold On,” Brokedowns,” those were all songs that came from that session with Harley. So we went in and recorded those, and I think we only recorded basic drums, guitar and bass. I don’t even think we did vocals yet. But then, me, Daniel and Brandon got together months later and worked on the other three that we had cut out of that original five-song session. We worked on those and then went and recorded those.

At this point, it’s like two years later. I had run into Craig and he talked about “Monuments” and how he thought it was a cool song and how he wishes he could have played on that song, and I said “Well, I thought that you didn’t want to” and he felt like time had passed and he felt different about things, and I think by that point we had done that livestream that we did. I had texted everyone like “Hey, me and Daniel want to do this, we don’t know who’s around and it’s pretty ambitious to do, but me and Daniel will do a lot of the heavy lifting but if you want to do it, it could be cool.” Everyone was obviously very into doing it, and I think going forward from that, I think it makes sense to keep running it that way. If there are things that come up that seem cool, whoever is in is in, and whoever has things going on, that’s fine. We’ll either have someone else come help us or we just won’t do it, but we’ll have other cool opportunities for us to do. I think by establishing that idea into the band, it makes people feel like they can participate but they don’t have to make it their whole entire life.

So, once we did that, I told Craig “Well, we’ve gone in and pretty much recorded the basics for the second half of the record and I have these new songs that you haven’t heard yet, so if you want to be on it I would love to have you, because I love your guitar work and I love your ideas and I love what you can bring to the table.” I love Craig’s vocals in the band. I think me and him complement each other well, and I always want him to be there at all times. I can’t force people to be there, and life is always going to happen, especially if this isn’t your full-time job and there is no money to be made on this. You can’t drop things to do this all the time. So we went back in the studio and showed him the skeletons of the songs and told him to add in the parts that he thought were good and he did backup vocals. The result is this record. It’s a weird record in terms of how it got made, but I think how it got made is what makes this record so important to us. So many things have gone on for us to make this happen.

On a lot of different levels, yeah.

On a lot of levels, right. So many! And Harley jumping in and playing drums, JR from Less Than Jake and Chris from Bosstones jumping in and playing horns on it

Or for some of us, it will always be Chris and Pete from Spring Heeled Jack (*both laugh*)

And then Casey Prestwood from Hot Rod Circuit plays lap steel guitar on that track. I remember him from a Drag The River show that I saw over ten years ago, and I was like “He’s so good, I wonder if he still plays…” so I was like “Hey, we don’t really know each other, but I saw you play this legendary show in my mind…do you still play lap steel?” and he was like “Yeah, man, I can do that for you, no problem.” Kailynn West sings on “Wedding Day.” So we reached out to a lot of friends to really make this record happen. I had to trust myself on a lot of decisions and push myself to finish this record, and I’m happy that at the end of it, it’s still the four of us here making this record and contributing however we could. And I feel like Harley is an extension of our band at this point because he has helped us out so much and I love having him there. So the reason there are only two lead-vocal Craig songs on the record is because he wasn’t there for some of the writing on it. So it was important to me that once he was back in the mix, that he sang a lot of the backups on it. I think live, there will be a lot more shared vocal stuff, because live, I can’s sing all those songs all in a row the way they’re written and have a voice by the end of the night. (*both laugh*)

I made note a couple times that you really push your voice on this one. 

I’ve been taking vocal lessons for the last two years now. I do a vocal lesson every two weeks, and I started that because I knew that Craig wouldn’t be able to be there for some of the shows and I would have to sing a majority of the songs, because we didn’t have someone else who could sing his parts. And that would be a lot for my voice to take on, especially if the songs weren’t written with the intention of one person singing them. Even a song like “Get Up” or “Anchoring” has some back-and-forth spots that, when we’ve done it live without Criag for the couple of shows that he hasn’t been able to be at, it’s been difficult. So, I reached out to a vocal coach and every two weeks we FaceTime. I still do them, because it’s good to have. But I do remember Jay (Maas) saying when we were recording that “I think your vocals sound better than I’ve ever heard them, and I think the lessons helped a lot.” I was really appreciative of that. 

I think I would agree with that. I think with a song like “Hold On,” which is obviously an important song for a lot of reasons, it being the first single from the new record sets that bar, and you really push it in that song especially, to the high end of the register for you. Even though that song is drop-tuned, right?

So that’s the trick! This is so stupid…(*both laugh*)

No, I love this shit!

When we learned the Blink self-titled record, there are a couple songs that are tuned in C#. I think “Violence” is one of them, and I think “Stockholm Syndrome” might be. I remember how cool I thought it sounded, so I thought “Well, maybe I’ll copy Tom DeLonge and write a couple of songs in C#.” Also, “Wrestle Yu to Husker Du” by The Dirty Nil is also tuned down to C#, and I was like “This is why the singer of Dirty Nil can sing so high on that song, because he’s playing drop-tuned, so it’s giving you more of a range to sing over it.” So I was like “Oh, that’s the trick! That’s why it sounds like he’s belting the song out!” So with “Telephone” and “Hold On,” those are the two songs that I wrote in that tuning for that reason. 

Oh “Telephone” I don’t think I knew, but “Hold On,” for sure – that big riff at the beginning of it. Is that fun? It seems like you were obviously pretty inspired to write during everything that was going on anyway, but did trying out new tunings like that open up any creative parts of your brain and, like, “Oh, there’s a whole new register of songs I can write!”

Oh yeah, it’s so fun. Everyone knows the Drop-D trick, for sure, but when I tuned down to C#, I retuned the whole entire guitar down a step-and-a-half. I think it sounds really cool

And now you can play Korn covers! 

(*both laugh*) For sure! It gets my creative juices flowing a lot more, for sure, to get to think of things in a different way. The cool thing is that Craig bought a guitar pedal that you just hit and it down-tunes you to whatever semi tone you want to. He tried it and didn’t love it, but he thought it would be cool for me because I do a lot of big, open chords. So I tried it and I was like “Damn, for a live setting, this is fucking fine with me!” So when we play live, I have that pedal and I use it for those songs. I don’t have to retune, I just hit the pedal and what you hear from there is drop tuned. Then I can still just have my backup guitar as a backup, because that was the fear. What if you break a string and then you have to go to your back-up guitar, and then you have to figure out how to…

…capo punk rock songs at the third fret or whatever. 

Yeah, exactly. It’s a super cool pedal. I think there’s definitely some give-and-take with the tone a little bit, but it’s so negligible that I’m fine with it. 

I think the last time we talked like this was maybe right around the George Floyd events. I don’t remember if we talked specifically for “Monuments” or anything like that. But did you stay pretty creative, or did the not really knowing what was going to happen with the band make so that you didn’t even bother writing during that time?

I want to say that I was super creative throughout the whole thing but a lot of it was just very depressing for me, especially around the George Floyd time. I would sit there and try to write something, but I was forcing myself to write when I wasn’t feeling inspired. All I was thinking about was “Do I have a career anymore? Maybe I don’t have a career anymore! Did I make all the wrong choices that led me to this point where I don’t own a career or own a house? Did I set myself up for complete failure? That’s how I felt throughout all of it. And then, when the George Floyd thing happened, I wrote “Monuments” faster than I’ve ever written any other song, and we recorded it faster than we’ve recorded any other song. From inception to recording it, it took about two weeks, which is the fastest Rebuilder has ever done anything! That snapped me back into doing something, because I felt like I wrote because I didn’t know how to…there’s only so many posts you can make (on social media). I don’t know what to say, and I don’t ever know the right things to say at all, really. All I really know is how I feel, and I don’t know if that’s the correct thing. Writing “Monuments” helped me put all of my feelings into one thing and try to do something good with it. I can’t fix it and I can’t make it go away, but I can contribute in some way to making it better. That was when I got a little bit more creative, and then when we went in with Alex-Garcia Rivera to record a Mavis Beacon song for Jeff Poot, because he had a brain aneurysm, we thought it would be fun to cover his song and send him some money. That was another thing where these things seemed so pressing and so much more important than what our band is, that that was when I was like “Oh, I feel like I can be creative now because there’s a purpose.” That made me start doing things again, because otherwise, it didn’t feel like there was ever going to be a purpose other than just being less bored. 

I think that if you look at it from 10,000 feet though, I think that a lot of the songs that tackle mental health issues are also a way of sort of doing the same thing. Those songs are written for a purpose and people hear them and hopefully they resonate with them and identify with things in them, and that helps them either call somebody and get help or realize they aren’t alone. And so I feel like some of the more mental health-related songs sort of accomplish the same sort of purpose, at least for me as a listener.

Yeah, I hope so! There was still a record to be worked on and finished, so once I was in the mode of “We’re going to go record and we’re getting in a room together,” even if it was just me and Daniel and Harley, if felt like there were things going on. Especially with tracks like “Wedding Day” and “Staying Alive” that take on a lot of the mental health things. I always say that when you hear songs like “Staying Alive,” you’re like “Is this a big, desperate cry for help?” But Rebuilder takes so long to get anything out into the world (*both laugh*) that whatever was going on, by the time you hear it, that is years and years and years removed. “Staying Alive” is a song that was written on a reflection of a time where I had another complete mental breakdown a little after college, when I was probably 24 or 25. I’m 38 now, so whatever was going on at that time, I’m thankful is way behind me, where I can write a song like “Staying Alive” and have it be really heavy and serious, but it’s not a thing where I can’t play that song because it’s too new or too painful. Like, I can write the song because I can talk about what I was feeling at that time, and what I still sometimes feel now, and have it not be so reactionary to my life at that moment. I can guarantee you that there’s a book somewhere with the lyrics to that song written over and over and over again until I felt it was what it should be.

There are times where I look back on lyrics from my first band where I’m like “Oh my god, I wish this person didn’t put this song out. I wish he thought of different words to put in because it’s so cringy.” I just don’t want it to be that anymore (*both laugh*). So it’s a good thing that it takes a while for this stuff to come out, since it allows me to sit with things even for a year and say “Eh, I don’t know if that’s right.” I’m happy with how “Staying Alive” came out because after revising it so many times, it doesn’t read as corny. I didn’t want it to be too corny or too much like an emo song. I wanted it to be a serious song dealing with serious matters but also feel like by the end of the song you don’t feel like “Oh this situation is terrible.” 

When people who know you from Salfies or from #TheBiz or from that side of things hear those songs filled with references to the more mental health-heavy stuff, does that strike them as weird because you don’t always present to them that way publicly?

No one brings it up. I’ve never had anyone be like “that’s weird that you would write this song when you do all these really fucking dumb things on the internet.” I just think that they must think “This is wild. This kid must be the most bipolar kid in the fucking world.” (*both laugh*) I always imagine that they think that. But I have also thought that the funny thing is that it also goes very hand-in-hand. There is a lot of crossover (“Staying Alive”) and Salfies than you would ever, ever imagine. 

Really?!

Yeah. The way that I felt in a song like “Staying Alive” and everything I felt in it and all the anxieties and all the times where I just did not want to be alive, is because I had no confidence in myself and I always was very, very concerned with what people think about me. And I still have that. I don’t think that ever goes away. But I remember when I first took a dumb Salfie in a bathroom and sent it on Snapchat to my band members while we were on a tour and thinking it was so funny and seeing the reactions from everybody being like “Oh, what the fuck!?” All it took was somebody saying “I hope you don’t do this the whole tour” for me to be like “Well now I have to.” I was doing it and thinking it was funny but it was still an internal thing and no one knew about. I remember a girl I was dating at the time I had shown that picture to, and they weer so disgusted. It made me feel really bad. They were disgusted in a bad way, like “Please don’t ever take pictures like this, and don’t show anybody this, this is so embarrassing for me and I don’t know why you would do something like this.” I remember thinking to myself “Well, note to self, don’t show your girlfriend these pictures…”

I kept doing them obviously, and during a Bosstones tour, Adam Shaw, the tour manager, had asked about Rebuilder and I sent him that picture and I was like “We just finished a tour, here’s a picture from tour!” and he thought it was hilarious and sent it to all the guys in that band, and they thought it was funny or some of them were disgusted. Dicky was one of the people who loved it. He coined the term. He texted me and was like “No Salfies this weekend, please!” and he was like “You’ve gotta make a Salendar calendar, that would be so funny!” That encouraged me to get more creative with it, because I thought it was so funny. More and more people started finding out about it and bringing it up to me. I remember I was at a restaurant with the girl I was dating at the time and I remember a friend of mine came up to me and said “Oh you must be so proud of the Salfies” and they got fucking pissed! They were so bullshit! They were like “Why do people know about this?! Why is this becoming a thing?!” After we broke up, I think one of the things I did was like “Well, fuck it – now I don’t have anyone standing over me and making me feel self-conscious about doing this, I’m just going to post it on Instagram.” I think I posted the archives that I had on my phone on Instagram like the day after we broke up, and people being like “OH MY FUCKING GOD!”

I remember people seeing it and it becoming a “thing,” like “we need more Salfies!” and thinking it was so funny, to the point that Jimmy Kimmel had seen them. Due to “circumstances,” after a Bosstones show I was out at a dinner with Bob Saget and Jimmy Kimmel. Someone introduced me to Bob Saget and he was like “Who’s this?” and someone said “This is Sal” and Jimmy goes “Yeah, let me show you a picture of him,” and he had a Salfie on his phone and showed it to Saget and he laughed and said “This is amazing, I want to show this to Mary-Kate (Olsen)!” I was sitting there thinking “What the fuck is my life right now?!?” (*both laugh*)

It blew my mind completely, and from that point, I hadn’t felt like I’d described in “Staying Alive.” I hadn’t felt that way in a long time and I remember not feeling that way and thinking “I don’t give a fuck anymore. I don’t care, and I can’t believe that this is the outcome that came from me posting dumb pictures of me naked behind things on Instagram.” But then, the person who felt that way could never post pictures like that, you know? Now it’s a whole thing and I think it’s so stupid, but even now, there’s times when I meet people and they’re like “Oh my god, you have to look at Sal’s Instagram, it’s a whole thing.” I’ve had people say to me “I wish I could do that, I don’t have the fucking balls to do it. That’s crazy.” And I’m just, like, yeah, I don’t know how I got to this point, but I’m glad I did, because I don’t ever want to feel the way I did before. Ever! I never want to feel the way I did in “Staying Alive.” It’s a terrible feeling and you feel like you have no hope and you have nowhere to go and you’re not good enough and you have so much self-doubt. Now, I feel like that isn’t as aggressive in my life anymore, and some of that is thankfully due to thinking it’s fucking hilarious to put a Santa Claus in front of me and stand behind it naked, you know? (*both laugh*)

I think even with #TheBiz stuff, the way that you present to people is that “This kid is smart, and he’s funny, but he also doesn’t really give a fuck and he’ll tell you exactly how things actually work and he’s super confident.” So to know that some of that comes from the place of a person who has overcome so much fear and doubt and insecurity and anxiety is pretty awesome, I think. 

I’m glad it comes off that way. With The Biz stuff, I think that the music business is just hte most ridiculous business in the world. It’s such a fucking joke. As someone who has been in it my whole life – who literally has a fucking degree in it – I think it’s funny to point out this stuff. It’s always crazy to me how much the general public doesn’t know about things. When we signed to A-F Records, people were like “Congratulations on A-F!” I got those texts a lot and I didn’t really know how to respond to them. In my head, I was like “Well, it’s not Warner Brothers, you know? What are these congratulations for? It’s not Sony Music, you know? It’s a small label. I’m happy for it, but it’s a small label.” So I responded to a lot of people “Thank you! They gave us a million-dollar advance.” I think nine out of ten people believed it every single time. They were like “Whoa, that’s crazy!” And I’m thinking “Fuck…they really don’t know how this thing works.” I think things like that are funny, and it means so many different things. One, people have no idea what a million-dollar advance means. So let’s say it were true: that would mean that I now owe the record label a million dollars before I ever see any money ever again.

Right, you have to sell a million dollars worth of records.

Yeah, to get that back, or to make any profit after that. And let’s say we did start making that back. Now you have to split it among all of these people. So it would be a nice cushion for a while, but it won’t be forever. So even that statement, there’s so much weight that comes with what it actually means, and people have no idea at all. So it was funny to say and have people say “Wow, that’s crazy!!” (*both laugh*) I love always posting about The Biz with different artists and having them be in on the joke too, or when it comes to merch and a lot of people talk about merch cuts and how they’re bad, and I think that you can’t have “Save Our Stages” and “Fuck The Venues” all at the same time, you know? (*both laugh*) People are like “I don’t want to pay the merch cut, but let’s make sure this venue doesn’t go away!” It’s so contradictory. And I’m not even saying that I think merch cuts are necessarily a good thing. All I’m saying is that they exist and they go to keep the venue open, so maybe you’ve got to think about what you’re arguing for. 

I do think there’s a difference when it happens at what’s seen to be an independent venue versus what is seen to be a corporate, LiveNation venue, where it seems like the corporate overlords have their hands in everything and realistically LiveNation could do without your five dollars on that t-shirt and they’re collecting it in the name of profit. Whereas with a locally run place or a smaller venue might not be able to keep the lights on without it. So to me it seems like there’s a distinction to be made. 

Oh for sure. Absolutely. I’m all for there not being merch cuts, and I say that as somebody who makes money off there being a merch cut. I literally run a merch vending business where the money I make for a living sometimes is because of a merch cut. I get it, and I would happily give that up for there to just be no merch cuts across the board, because I don’t think a venue should share in 20% of merch sales. People get really emotional about it because it has to do with music, whereas if you just thought about it like a business thing, then it’s totally different. If you go to set up at the flea market, you’ve got to pay a flat fee to have your table set up or sometimes you have to pay a percentage to have your things set up, so for me, it’s the cost of doing business. And for me, if you’re a band that agrees to it and you sign a contract that says you agree to hand over that money to the venue, you shouldn’t put up a fight at the end of the night with the person who is still in college and is an hourly, paid employee who is just going to you to settle up. Don’t be a dickhead to that person. That’s basically you being a dickhead to your Amazon driver because you don’t like Jeff Bezos, you know? Why are you yelling at the Amazon driver, he’s not the one getting the Jeff Bezos money, he’s just getting his hourly rate and doing his fucking job. Go yell at your agent who said “yeah, that fee is fine.” Go yell at him!

I think you have to look out for your fans above all. Take a look at a band like Dropkick Murphys. They have always kept prices of t-shirts relatively affordable for people going to a show. Dropkick have played small clubs and they have played huge arenas. Their cost of a shirt is usually between $20 at the cheapest and $30-35 at the most expensive. I think if you went and saw them at Fenway Park opening up for the Foo Fighters or whatever, the price of a t-shirt was still a $30 t-shirt, rather than them being like “Well, it’s Fenway Park, and Fenway Park is going to take a lot, and we don’t even get to sell it, and the cut is like 25-75 or 30-70. It sucks. It definitely sucks. But at the end of the day, you have to worry about your customer. You shouldn’t give a fuck about the venue. It sucks that they’re taking that much, but you have to think about your fan. It sucks as a fan, when your only option of seeing you where you are is at a big place because that’s the only place you’re playing, and I have to pay $50 to buy a shirt when the kid in the next state that saw you at a smaller place got to pay $20 when it’s the same exact fucking shirt and I didn’t have the option of seeing them at the smaller place. I have no idea what a merch cut even is. All I know is that Rebuilder got a million dollar advance and now I’m paying fifty dollars for a t-shirt (*both laugh*).” People don’t know. You’ve got to care about your fanbase and do what’s best for them, because at the end of the day, you’re the one that is going to look like a dickhead and create more of a problem.”

I’m going to tell you the only time I’ve used my degree. (*both laugh*) I went to Berklee College of Music for this moment right here. This is what the college set me up for. I was selling merch for Dinosaur Jr. at Roadrunner. This guy came up to me and said “Do you work for the band or the venue?” And I said “Both, why?” And he was like “I just want to know.” So I said Okay, I’m going to entertain this for now. Both.” And he was like “How does that work?” And I said “Well, the band hired me. Sometimes you work for the band. I tour for a living working for acts. But I also live here and I need a place to work when I’m home. This is a venue I work at. And sometimes, both of those things happen at the same time.” And he goes “Well, you know, I’m just asking because venues really screw over artists all the time!” And I was like “Excuse me?!” And he goes “You know, the venues just take money from bands now, and they don’t let bands make money.” I’m like this guy read a post from his favorite band saying “fuck these venues taking merch cuts” or whatever and doesn’t even understand what that means.

So I said “That’s such a general statement and it’s not exactly true.” And he goes, “Yeah it is, I know! I’ve been going to shows for twenty years.” And I said “I have a music business degree, and this is how I make all my money and I literally went to school for this.” And he’s like “You went to school for this? Where did you go?” And I said “Berklee. Years ago. I’m fucking 38.” And he’s like “Oh, well, you have a degree in it, so I guess you know. Sorry.” And he walked away. And I was like “Well, that’s the one moment, that one guy right there, is the one time I’ve used this degree.” And yes, there are things that suck for bands. If you’re a small band on an opening tour, you’re getting paid $100 to $200 a night for that opening slot and then you have to pay the merch cut on top of that, it sucks for you. I suggest you lie to the venue, but be extremely nice and kind and respectful and like “Well, this is what we made tonight. We made $100.” I hope that they feel bad for you and don’t take anything, and I hope that you can do a good job playing that part every night to do what you need to do as a band. That’s just the way I look at it. 

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