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DS Interview: Catching up with Deaf Club’s Brian Amalfitano!

Dying Scene interviewed Brian Amalfitano of Deaf Club before their show at Thalia Hall in Chicago. Other bands on the bill included Meth, See You Next Tuesday, Usurp Synapse, and DJ Speedsick. Dying Scene: Tell me about yourself and Deaf Club. Brian Amalfitano: My name is Brian Amalfitano. It’s very Italian. I’m the guitarist. This interview has been edited for length and […]

Dying Scene interviewed Brian Amalfitano of Deaf Club before their show at Thalia Hall in Chicago. Other bands on the bill included MethSee You Next TuesdayUsurp Synapse, and DJ Speedsick.

Dying Scene: Tell me about yourself and Deaf Club.

Brian Amalfitano: My name is Brian Amalfitano. It’s very Italian. I’m the guitarist.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

BA: I started this band with Justin Pearson. Originally, we played in our former bands. He used to be in Retox and I toured with him. We played three or four shows, and I was a huge fan of his projects, The Locust in particular.  Six months later, I was in San Diego, which is stomping grounds for Three One G Records, Justin, and everybody, we saw a band called Metz from Canada, and he was like, “Look, what are you doing? And “I’ve been on hiatus for a little bit.” So, he said, “Hey, let’s start a project.” And I thought he was joking. He had a lot of projects going on and I thought, well, this guy is Justin Pearson, what’s he going to do with me? But essentially, we met again, and he started sending me drummers. He was touring with Dead Cross at that time. And so, Jon Syverson from the band Daughters at the time had recommended Scott Osmond, who is our drummer, and he said, yeah, why don’t you try jamming out with this guy? And that kind of became the nucleus of the band. Scott and I sort of wrote all the riffs and guitars and drums together. So, after we sort of wrote all that, we sent it to Justin, he put vocals on everything, and that became our first demo of five songs. I think it was six minutes. It was quick, and we’ve been sort of fleshing it out from there. That’s how Deaf Club started.

DS: So, this is my first time seeing Deaf Club. What can you tell someone like me about your band?

BA: Well, it’s a little bit of…Justin had this one lyric, “highbrow caveman,” so it’s a little bit neanderthally, very abrasive, but a little bit highbrow. We’re trying to be a little bit smarter about what we do. It’s chaos, but it’s controlled chaos. We try to turn on a dime and it’s just very fast, but also very weird. We’ve always been influenced by the weirder aspects of music, so we use a lot of pedals and stuff like that. Obviously, he did that in The Locust, but he’s not playing anything. So, when we started this, I asked him if I could play pedals in this band and he said, “yeah, absolutely!” The weirder the better. So, I think it’s a little bit weird, but aggressive in a positive way. We’re not trying to scare people. We don’t want to be a hardcore band that’s a beatdown band, a macho band. Some people obviously throw elbows and kicks in the pit, but we’re not trying to send anyone to the dentist the next day. We’re trying to be nice and sort of be a community band.

“Some people obviously throw elbows and kicks in the pit, but we’re not trying to send anyone to the dentist the next day. We’re trying to be nice and sort of be a community band”.

– Brian Amalfitano

DS: Tell me about the bands you are touring with today.

BA: Meth, See You Next Tuesday, and Usurp Synapse. Seb Alvarez of Meth put together the tour. He’s friends with our drummer, Scott, for many years. Scott was in Meth for a little bit. He was playing drums with them; he plays drums with Glassing. So, he kind of knew Seb already, and Seb wanted us to come out here to play. So, between Scott and Seb, they just kind of emailed everybody and we’re like, let’s do this. It’s more of a DIY network sort of thing. We do have booking agents and things like that, but sometimes we just reach out to our friends, and we say, hey, let’s do this, and whatever route we could do. So, just the camaraderie of bands and communities in little pockets of America is kind of cool.

DS: How’s the tour going?

BA: It is fresh. It’s the second day. We’ve only had one show. The first show we blew out a tire on the van, which is kind of what happens, and we deal with what comes to us, so it’s all good now. We were on tour with Converge I think the first day out of California or out of Los Angeles we also blew a tire. And then we also blew three hoses on that entire tour, which was kind of wild. Our tour has van has 420,000 miles on it, so it’s been beat to shreds. The Locust used it. Retox used it. A bunch of bands used it, it’s a historical piece.  Everyone’s great people, so that makes it better. 

DS: So, it’s early in the year. What does 2024 look like for you?

BA: Personally, I think it’s great for Deaf Club. We have a couple tours coming up including a European tour. I’m not quite sure if they’re panning out and I don’t want to say anything before they’re confirmed. We’ve been writing material. I think we have a good amount almost for a full length, so hopefully a full length. We have some stuff for a split that we’re doing. We have the tour with Fuck Money, which are our label mates on Three One G. They’re also from Austin, Texas. They’re a phenomenal band. Austin’s kind of like our third home. It’s like LA, San Diego, and Austin. They treat us well and all the bands there are great. It’s looking good this year. 

DS: What accomplishments do you see yourself achieving in the next five years as a band?

BA: Honestly, the hardest part of a band is just surviving the money situation of anything. If anyone cares enough in five years for us to be writing what we’re doing, that’d be great. We’re always trying to push the envelope and create new things, sort of carve out our sound a little bit better. I think even now for the next year, we’ve been writing songs that are a little bit lengthier. Our first album maybe had a song that was like 48 seconds. So, now it’s like, oh, it’s the two-minute mark and that seems reasonable. So, we’re writing better songs. Yeah, so for the next five years I hope we keep doing that and progressing as a band.

DS: Can you tell me a little bit about Three One G Records?

BA: Three One G is Justin’s label. It’s been around 25 years now. I remember, probably about 25 years ago, I started listening to Three One G and listening to the Locust and Gold Standard Labs and other labels from around that time from San Diego and sort of being in awe of the DIY aspect of it, the community aspect of it. And they were not tough guy hardcore. They were sort of skinny dudes doing things and getting essentially beat up by being what people would call them, effeminate, weird, nerdy or whatever. So, it gave me hope, it’s like punk can be weird. Punk cannot be a clique. San Diego created its own DIY community. It didn’t have to go to LA. It didn’t have to be a part of something. So, it kind of helped me think of those things where you could be an outlier even in an outlier subculture like punk and still find a little niche for yourself. And Three One G sort of has always done that. I think they’ve released a lot of great records, a lot of seminal records of just bands that were a little bit askew, a little bit weirder than your normal punk. And yeah, I think Justin has good taste in that regard, trying to find new things.

DS: Tell me about how you all keep the momentum going, especially with all your other projects.

BA: I think it’s just, it’s a lifer thing. It’s something that you don’t really think about. I own a record store. During the pandemic, we couldn’t tour. So, we were like, what do we do? And we opened a record store like, well, music is the one thing that keeps us all going and saves us and lets us have creative outlets and positive outlets. I think my first conversation with Justin in San Diego about creating Deaf Club was, I’m a big Sonic Youth guy and I was like, I’d rather be an underground band for 25 years or 30 years rather than this huge band that just breaks up after a couple of years. I’d rather have the longevity of creating good solid things and keeping it going. I think because we are all dedicated to that concept it helps us go, okay, yeah, maybe we don’t get all the love or the accolades or whatever for a couple years, but eventually someone might be listening, and you want to help that one person. We do get some people that say, “listening to you guys made my year,” or “saved me” helped us. And that’s some positive reinforcement that you just can’t buy it. So, it’s cool.

DS: You mentioned you have a record store. Tell me about it.

BA: We started it a year into the pandemic. It’s called Spinning Plate Records and we do a little bit of everything. I’m from Argentina, so the demographic is very much Latino. We started bringing in Rock En Espanõl, hip hop, Three One G records, music that I grew up listening to, and things that I, through the DIY community, was like, Hey, I’m going to sell my friends’ records. I started just creating a community based around that. That kind of transferred into Spinning Plate Records. It’s been cool. It’s been a good three years.

DS: So, tell me about your favorite performance as a band.

BA: One of my favorite performances we’ve played was at Elysium in Austin, Texas. We played at Oblivion Access Fest, which was a DIY and the first year of the festival. It was this young kid had thrown it, a friend of Scott’s. So, they invited us to play, and we played with Metz, which is again how Deaf Club sort of started, but I love Metz and so we were kind of honored to play with them. Three One G put out a seven-inch for them and that was just a good show and we did an after party. We’ve done SXSW where we played four shows in one day. But Metz for sure, that was a great show at Oblivion Access. I think Roskilde Festival was maybe our top show ever. That was in Denmark with a thousand-plus people. It was a whole festival. It was just phenomenal to get out of the States and be treated like…these people are like, oh, we just want to have you here. It was cool.

DS: So, are there any musicians who inspire you? Who would you like to collaborate with?

BA: I’m was huge Nirvana fan. Kurt Cobain is the reason that I play. I was eight or nine years old when he passed away. I bought Bleach and it said, this is Nirvana’s first record. So, I thought this must be the good one and it was super heavy. Then I started playing guitar soon after and we did a Nirvana cover for this band and a live set. If I could collaborate with anyone, Kurt Cobain. I know the other guys; we have different tastes.

DS: So, what song did you cover?

BA: “Tourettes.” So, we were on tour, and I think we’re like, oh, let’s do this cover song. We figured, I mean it has lyrics, but it’s just kind of yelling them. And so, we’re like, well, Justin, you don’t have to learn the lyrics, so you could just yell this rhythm and we could play it. At the time, the fill-in bass player, Collin Smith, played in a band called Se Vende, and was on tour with us, he’s a big Nirvana guy, too. so, we bonded over that. We’re like, let’s do it. Justin kind of makes fun of me. He’s good.

DS: What four bands should we be listening to?

BA: Fuck Money for sure. Fuck Money is a phenomenal band from Austin, Texas. I think Snooper is great. Meth is a phenomenal band. There’s Scott’s other band, Glassing. Just so many of our friends’ bands are doing such cool things. Sometimes it’s cool to see your own band members in those bands. Then you see what they could do or how creative they are in different aspects. You’re like, oh, I didn’t know that you could do that. So, Fuck Money, Meth, Glassing, and Snooper are really good bands.

DS: What bands are you listening to this week?

BA: I love Gilla Band, they’re Irish noise kind of post-punk weird. I love Metz. I love Tropical Fuck Storm, Australian band they’re more rock, but a little bit skewed and weird. I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of hardcore. I feel like you just start getting those ideas and those riffs. So, I like chiller bands. We listen to a lot of chill stuff in the band, even a lot of indie dream pop. Scott likes a lot of chill stuff, even though he’s a brutal drummer. I love Amyl and the SniffersKing Gizzard & The Lizard WizardThe Murder Capital, and Crows. Yeah, it’s a little bit everywhere for me. There are so many good bands.

DS: What advice do you have for musicians and others in the music industry?

BA: I think you must do what you love. It’s a risk and rewarding, if you’re just looking to make money or just looking to do these things, you’re not going to do it. We all have our jobs. Justin has been running a record label for a long time, Jason works for Fender, and I have a record store. We get to go out on tour and do what we love. I retired young and started going on tour playing in cover bands and played in friends’ bands. If you’re a lifer and you really love it, maybe something will happen.

DS: We have a mutual friend, Martin Atkins. Tell me about your experience meeting him and visiting his museum, the Museum of Post Punk & Industrial Music.

BA: First, I’m amazed at the wit and the sharpness that Martin Atkins has. The number of stories and jokes that he has. His quick sense of humor and his dry wit and the way that he delivers things was just mesmerizing. It’s almost like he’s a comedian. He could do standup if he wanted to. But then the collection that he has. The things with PIL and John LydonGabe Serbian’s Locust uniform. And just seeing that, because I knew Gabe and I went to a lot of Locust shows and I helped them, and it felt really at home as well. This person cares about these things and it’s nice to see. And so yeah, just Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, all these historical things. People not only visit his museum, but they also send him things. That just reinforces that even a person of this level can be part of this DIY community. So, last time we stayed for two days at the museum. He allows bands to stay there as well, which to me is crazy. If you allow, I mean a punk rock band…I’m like, wait, you’re going to just allow a bunch of punk rockers around all these priceless artifacts? I’m like, what if they pocket something? So, it was kind of amazing that he just allowed us to stay there. He just gave us a key and was very welcoming to us. We went downstairs and listened to some secret tracks of the Johnny Lydon singing over The Beatles and this and that. I was like, this is blowing my mind. I love his merchandise, the Pigface stuff. I bought this “Eat Shit You Fucking Redneck” shirt and I wore that in Texas. So, yeah, just the sweetest guy. This reinforces the belief that even weirdos are nice, goth industrial people…that people think are scary, they wear all black or whatever. And it really helps you mentally to go somewhere like that. Sometimes you just stay in the flea bag hotel, and we have and there’s bugs or something that get me, and you’re like, no, no, no, we’re leaving. But just for someone to offer that, it is very welcoming, open. It’s nice. We couldn’t stay this time. We had planned it, but he was out of town, and he had to do an open house and all these things.

DS: Yeah, we’ve been to several events there and enjoyed it.

BA: There’s always things that you miss. It’s like going shopping at an antique mall and you’re just looking at everything and what am I going to see? And then he’s like, look at that little ticket stub. Look at that little thing. He has so many stories about that little thing and that little thing and that little thing. How do you remember that? Especially back in those days, I imagine the partying and the drinking or whatever. I’m like, I can’t remember what happened last week and I’m not even doing anything. There’s too much mayhem now.

DS: You’ve got some pretty incredible tattoos there, especially that Daniel Johnson one. Obviously, these things are important to you, so tell me about that and what they mean.

BA: So, on my upper right arm, I have all my novelists and stuff. So, I have Albert CamusTolkien, and George Orwell. I have the K Records because Kurt Cobain had a K Records tattoo but also K Records is a label from Olympia, Washington. But my twin brother, Sergio, and I got this for our birthday just for Kurt, and it’s the only one that I have on my left arm. But these are all musicians, Iggy PopRadioheadSub Pop, which was the first label that I really loved. Sub Pop and Three One G were sort of the things like grunge and punk and weirdo punk. And yeah, it got me into Nirvana, Soundgarden, and got me into playing. 

“Daniel Johnson’s not the best singer, but because he does it and he loves it earnestly, he gained a following”.

– Brian Amalfitano

BA: Daniel personally for me, I love him as far as, he had a lot of mental health issues. For him to sort of overcome them enough to write love songs and to write by himself on a little pump organ piano. And his guitar and sort of show you in a different context…maybe Bob Dylan‘s not the best singer, or John Lennon‘s not the best singer or Daniel Johnson’s not the best singer, but because he does it and he loves it earnestly, he gained a following. He also sat there and dubbed his own cassettes, drew his own drawings, and handed them out to people. If that’s not one of those penultimate DIY ethics, maybe even not knowing that that’s part of DIY and punk rock, just having that mindset of I just need to get this out of my brain and I need to hand it to people to see if they relate. I doubt he ever thought he was going to be famous or anything. I got to see him before he passed. And even just listening to his voice and still having that same refrain, that same sort of childlike voice. And even though he kind of would shake in the middle of the songs when he was singing, he was very calm. His body was very calm. I thought that that sort of spoke to the power of music. And so Lo-fi, DIY, Daniel, maybe it’s not what a hardcore kid would do or not but it’s very much wearing your heart on your sleeve. A little bit of innocence is necessary in music.

DS: The great Wayne Kramer recently passed away. I know you’re a fan. You’ve spoken about losing Kurt Cobain and Daniel Johnston. How do we survive losing our heroes?

BA: I think for me personally, I grew up an atheist. My grandfather gave me a lot of books on atheism growing up and sort of the reverence of life to realize that people are human and frail and maybe they’re not going to be here the same way that none of us are going to be here, but to enjoy them, to enjoy their influence. Some of these books, music, film, they stay with us for a very long time, and they stay here longer than us. Nick Cave, I think said it, “I’m creating these things that are going to outlive me and hopefully will influence someone and help them live a better life.” And I think Wayne particularly as well, I got to see him recently when he did the shows with Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and the MC5 stuff, the reunions, for him to have lost all his band members prior and for him to have been in jail but to still come out and do Jail Guitar Doors and to help people come out of that, just giving back to the community, I think he did a lot more than people give credit. Sure. Kick Out The Jams. But these heroes, especially because I was very young when Kurt died, it was an impressionable sort of thing. I remember them playing, I was in Argentina at the time. I was living there with my family. They’re from Argentina, and they played unplugged in New York nonstop on MTV Three. It was, and it sort of made me fall in love with the soft side of it as well, the melodic side of things, and to sort of listen to these words and listen to what these people care about and your heroes are sometimes flawed but they also teach you about beautiful things. If you could take that with you, then I think they’ve done their job. And that’s really all we could do for each other as far as humans.

DS: Do you have any other thoughts for the Dying Scene’s readers?

BA: Yeah. Just do what you love. Be as weird as you are. Just be yourself. It seems hard when you’re young because there are scenes. Everyone says punk is just for the outsiders. And sometimes within punk, you’re like, I’m a crusty, I’m hardcore. You can’t be part of our clique because you don’t dress a certain way. I think that the youth seem to be open to not only gender fluid, but genre fluid and sort of just being fluid in general. Just being able to go from hip hop to punk rock to this. Hopefully, being less judgmental of each other but also being less judgmental on yourself. There’s a lot of growing up in your youth where you just doubt yourself and you could cause harm to yourself. We all find something. It’ll be good the longer you stay in the game, it’ll be good for you.

DS: Thank you.

BA: Yeah. Absolutely.

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DS Interview: Chris Wrenn of Bridge 9 Records on Celebrating 25ish Years, Running a DIY Label, and Sully’s Brand

The terms “hard work” and “blood, sweat, and tears” get tossed around almost nonchalantly in the punk community, not necessarily because the words have lost their impact, but because they’ve become staples of what’s so great about the genre. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi was pretty spot on in describing punk as “playing […]

The terms “hard work” and “blood, sweat, and tears” get tossed around almost nonchalantly in the punk community, not necessarily because the words have lost their impact, but because they’ve become staples of what’s so great about the genre. Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi was pretty spot on in describing punk as “playing music for music’s sake and being part of a family for family’s sake.” Bridge Nine Records founder Chris Wrenn lived by this mantra in pouring everything he had into backing the local hardcore acts he’d grown close with. And after years of DIY promotion and creative forms of funding, Bridge Nine expanded to become, not only a staple of the Boston hardcore community, but a full-blown label touting some of hardcore punks’ most influential names.

Diligent and untiring labels like Bridge Nine, ones knee-deep in the very scenes they represent, have helped fuel the genre, I’d say, as much as the artists themselves, if not more so. Formed in the summer of 1995 in a college dormitory and mainly focusing on 7″ releases, Bridge Nine was a way for Wrenn to contribute to the flourishing and ever-motivated punk scene of Boston, MA.

“With DIY and hardcore punk, obviously there is this drive, it’s a culture of doing things and contributing. It’s not a lot of people just watching from the sidelines, it’s people that kind of roll up their sleeves and say, “okay, I can do this, this is how I can contribute”. And for me, all my friends were in bands, but I wasn’t in a band. So I wanted a way that I could kind of give back, but also something that I could do to make me a part of the process.”

“So for me, it was starting a label, but I didn’t even mean to start a label necessarily, I was helping my friends put out seven-inches and having them pressed. Because in 1995, when I decided I wanted to do that, it wasn’t a unique idea. There were a lot of people my age that were putting out seven-inch records with their friends’ bands.”

But in pre-internet days, information for starting a label, or even having records pressed, especially on a smaller scale, was extremely hard to come by. Through the help of some friends-of-friends, Wrenn was able to learn enough to put into action what would eventually grow into a full-blown record label and a full-time career.

“So, when you decide like, “oh, I want to put out a seven-inch or I want to help my friends do it”, especially at that time, information was pretty hard to come by. It was pre-internet, so there was no “I’m just going to Google this and find out how to do it”. You had to find somebody who knew what they were doing or had done it before; I mean, there were no real instructions on how to start a record label or press records. There were books, but a lot of them were bullshit and they weren’t really at the level that I was trying to be at, which is fairly small.”

“I was connected with somebody who had a label, a friend of a friend. I didn’t know him, but literally just gave him a call and just said, “What do you know? I want to put out a record, where do I even start?” And this dude was cool. He gave me a list of contacts, kind of walked me through it, and told me where I should get a record pressed.”

“So our first handful of records were done at a pressing plant in Nashville, Tennessee called United Record Pressing. They’ve been around forever, I think since the sixties at least, it might even be older than that. I know that they were the first pressing plant, I think in the U.S., to press the Beatles records. So they’ve been around the block a hundred times, pressed all sorts of records. Basically, I just called them and said “I want to press a record”. And they’re like “Alright, send us a DAC cassette with the audio, send us the artwork for the center labels, and a money order for whatever number of dollars it was at the time.”

“And we still work with them to this day, they just pressed something for us this year. 28 years.”

And thus, Bridge Nine Records was born. The label’s early days were defined by seven-inch releases for local acts such as Tenfold, The Trust, and Proclamation, with the label’s first full-length coming in the form of 1999’s “Taken By Force” by Proclamation.

Chris Wrenn working in the basement art department of Tower Records on Newbury Street (1999)

After close to 5 years, Bridge Nine turned a corner. Wrenn joined forces with a group of close friends, the founding members of American Nightmare, and was able to take the brand across the nation and internationally.

“After about four years of just putting out seven-inch singles with friends’ bands, I started working with American Nightmare. Again, their first record was just another seven-inch single, I’d done a handful of them at the time, but they were the first band that was willing to just hit the road, tour, and get out of New England. Because a lot of the bands I was working with prior to that didn’t really even leave Connecticut or Massachusetts, kind of just stayed local. They were the first band that was like “we want to go hit the road, tour everywhere”.”

“For me, it was an opportunity for them to wave the Bridge 9 flag and for me to wave theirs and for both of us to go across the country, go over to Europe, and be ambassadors for what we were doing.”

“So it was probably Summer of 2000 when, instead of just being a local thing, kids all around the world are starting to pick up and get interested. It was still a few years after that before it was like “oh wait, I have to quit my job and just focus on this.”

With this spike in popularity and awareness, Wrenn was faced with a common problem among any subsect of the punk community: lack of funding. Wrenn’s day job in the Tower Records art department was enough to make ends meet personally, but nowhere near what was needed to fund a label. Through an equally creative and unique solution stemmed, what I would argue, is one of Boston’s most defining brands. What originated as a label-funding campaign fueled by bumper stickers and Yankees-hate merch, Sully’s Brand has now flourished into a celebration of Boston pride under the slogan “Believe in Boston”.

“It’s funny cause it’s never really been like a full-time job for me, it’s never been an exclusive thing. I’ve always had other things that I’ve done at the same time to make it happen.”

“Spring going into Summer of 2000, I had signed American Nightmare, I mean it was just like a loose deal. But they were in the studio, had big plans for their record and I needed money. I was working at Tower Records in the art department, making like $7.50 an hour. So I didn’t have money to even cover my own bills, much less push this band.”

“So friends of mine and I went to Fenway Park where the Red Sox play, it was like less than a mile from our apartment. I was already making all these bumper stickers and t-shirts and stuff for punk bands, so I started making stuff for sports fans and would sell it in the street to people leaving the games. Early on, it just riffed on the rivalry with the Yankees, we would make Yankee suck merch, sell to people leaving the Red Sox games.”

“It was wild! You would just be mobbed, just trading money and stickers and t-shirts. Yeah. I mean, it was crazy, it was like drug dealer money with significantly less risk.

“So it was initially just an opportunity to go find money elsewhere and put it into putting out records. I had tried some of the more traditional routes at the time; my family wasn’t in a position to loan me money, I went to banks and couldn’t get a loan because I was fresh out of college, couldn’t even afford my student loan, much less another loan. I had no collateral, no car, no anything that I could put up to guarantee something.”

“We just had to figure out how to do it ourselves. After a few years, we raised a lot of money doing that, I mean we would come back after every game, a thousand bucks cash, and I would go the next day and buy money orders and send it to pressing plants and pay for magazine ads, all this stuff that the label needed and things that the bands needed. We even bought one of our bands, Terror, their first tour van with like bumper stickers.”

Summer of 2000 Fenway Courtesy of Kate Bowen

Funds were now taken care of, and the business took on a life of its own. What was initially used as a means to fuel the label soon emerged as a formal brand.

“After a few years, I realized this was a better business than putting out punk records and I wanted to expand on it. So I came up with the name Sully’s, started exploring other stuff that wasn’t based on the rivalry with the Yankees, started focusing on Boston stuff and it just grew into its own company. For 15, almost 20 years, they just kind of co-existed in our office, one whole side would be records and black t-shirts, and the other side was all sports stuff. And after a while, I started to meet people that were Have Heart fans, but also wore t-shirts from Sully’s; there was a lot of crossover.”

Just four short years after sales first began on Lansdowne St. outside of Fenway, Wrenn’s business was gifted some major media coverage with one of Boston’s favorite hometown heroes and a connection that stood the test of time over 15 years later. Ben Affleck’s love for Wrenn’s DIY brand eventually led to significant screen time in “The Town” [one of Nasty Nate’s all-time favorites], the Boston-set crime drama directed by, and starring Affleck.

Ben Affleck in “Killin With Schillin” Sully’s Brand tee,
c. 2004

“Ben Affleck wore one of our shirts back in 2004, which was cool. It was during the run for the World Series. And he was, you know, kind of showing it off in the picture.”

“And then in 2009, he was directing a movie, that movie “The Town”. Their costume department reached out to us and said “Hey, we bought a couple of your shirts from a local store and we’d like to use them in this movie.” I didn’t know anything about the movie or what the potential was for it. But I was like “yeah, you’re welcome to, I’ll sign whatever. And while you’re at it, take a look at our website and if there’s anything else, let me know. They faxed me like a four-page handwritten list of everything they wanted. It was just like, holy shit. It was like eight of every shirt, like two different sizes.”

“So I drove them down to the costume department when they were filming, hit it off with the woman who was the costume designer, and we basically became their print shop for everything. We ended up having, I think, six of our t-shirts in the movie. One of our Believe in Boston shirts was on Ben Affleck in a scene, we had this shirt that said Irish Pub Boxing that was on Jeremy Renner, we made the hockey jerseys at the end when they all go out on the ice.

“It was like Christmas for a while because all these people, they wanted to buy the shirts that the actors were wearing and they got them from us.”

From their early days of putting out local New England hardcore seven-inches to a few short years later being featured in major publications and more than one feature film, Wrenn’s DIY approach and motivated work ethic were common themes that allowed the label to grow to much more than a local brand. Wrenn’s dedicated mentality and laborious practice not only helped further punk rock’s grassroots reputation, but also served valuable in keeping Bridge 9 and Sully’s Brand afloat.

Labels are often the first to be overlooked in terms of the impact COVID-19 had on the music community. Artists and venues were at the forefront of attention when disaster struck, culminating in months of canceled tours and restricted gatherings. However, even businesses such as Wrenn’s, one’s enjoying mainstream success, were not invincible. Yet again, in true punk rock fashion, Wrenn was unafraid to get his hands dirty and got to work, utilizing the same DIY, creative approach that had proven successful over 20 years prior.

“Some of my best ideas have come when my back’s been against the wall, and with the pandemic and everything that came along with it, everyone’s back was against the wall, it was kind of like a do-or-die situation for a lot of people and a lot of businesses. And for me, you know, you just get creative. DIY has been fostered in the punk scene since the beginning. And, you know, I came into it wanting to use my hands and get involved. I think people in punk and hardcore are a little more, resilient, like they’re just willing to work harder, at least in my experience.”

“The pandemic was pretty tough because we had to let most of everyone go, temporarily at least. I had Sully’s, a screen printing business and Bridge 9, all three businesses were in the same space, and literally overnight, we had to send everyone home. It was a month, two months, we depended on mail order.”

“Thankfully, we had a pretty large inventory of stuff. So we started doing mystery boxes and had like these inexpensive, but good value mail order items that people could check out to help support us. And we were just kind of on this really low autopilot for a while.”

“Everything that Sully’s does as a brand is related to tourism and sports and both of those were gone. So I was just like sending packages to people, like just trying to get a buzz. So I looked up Ben Affleck, sent him a few shirts with a card that just said “Hey, it was the 10th anniversary of “The Town”, it was real sick that you included us in your movie and we’re still stoked about it. Here’s some stuff from Boston and thank you”.”

“And he wore all of that. Like every day he went out on these pandemic walks with his girlfriend wearing our shirts. Like that was really, really cool. And so we set up a few more things over the next year or so, and he was repping stuff from Bridge 9 and from Sully’s, which was very cool.”

Ben Affleck Sporting Sully’s Brand “Believe in Boston” Tee During COVID (2020)

Although business slowed for Bridge Nine and Sully’s brand during the 2019-2020 shutdowns, the COVID-19 storm was weathered and Wrenn was able to look forward. Both brands continued expansion and a new storefront location emerged, one much better suited for Wrenn’s objectives.

It was Summer of 2020, we had been in this same building for 14 years, and our old landlord said he was selling the building. So we were in a period of uncertainty, we were kind of trying to find something new. And the new landlord comes in and basically says “I’m going to double your rent”.”

“I mean we had some good times there, but I wanted something new. So through the pandemic, we had to let everyone go, find a new building, and then basically renovate it and get it up and running. And, so the last few years have been some of the craziest, hardest working years I’ve had, but also some of the best because we’ve landed in a much cooler spot.

Wrenn outside of the new Bridge 9/Sully’s Brand Headquarters

“It’s awesome, it has this big retail space up front. So we have our own record store, it has a big warehouse in back that we’re going to start having bands play, and it’s right on the main street in this kind of quiet, North of Boston town. It’s kind of weird to be selling Dead Kennedy’s records alongside Bridge 9 releases and Minor Threat and Slayer LPs, but here we are.”

“We got the keys on a Friday and then two days later, like on Monday, we get a phone call from a location scout for a movie. And it was for this movie called “The Tender Bar” starring Ben Affleck. And they’re like “we want to use your building for background in one of these scenes. So Ben Affleck came like two weeks later and filmed a scene in front of our building, which was just a crazy coincidence.”

“It’s kind of like “Oh man, the universe maybe is showing me that we’re on the right path.” We got a chance to chat with him briefly, thank him for repping the brand. And then his assistant asked us to design a t-shirt for him as their wrap gift. So, we ended up designing a shirt, it had his signature on the inside of it and we printed like 500 of them for anybody that worked in the film And that was cool, full circle moment.”

Through all of the excitement, from backing local bands in early Bridge 9 days to taking the label international, from selling bumper stickers and “Yankees Suck” merch outside Fenway to establishing a legitimate brand that’s been displayed in movies and major publications, Wrenn’s label was able to reach, and surpass, its 25th year of production. 25 years of operation holds much to look back on and Wrenn had difficulty choosing just one highlight.

“[Celebration for our 25th] was supposed to be 2020. We were going to do a whole bunch of cool stuff, but obviously, that all got kind of blown up. So we pushed that off to the 30th.”

“One of the cool things about doing a label for me has been finding new bands, bands that I get excited about and I want to help other people to know and be able to hear. And we’ve been able to do that with a bunch of bands, the earliest one probably being American Nightmare because those were guys I lived with. They had a demo, they wanted to record something, and being able to be there at the ground level was very, very cool, knowing their potential and kind of helping them realize it.”

“But it’s also really cool, and I found as just a music fan, to be able to work with bands that I liked before I even started the label. H2O, for example. I mean, I was a huge H2O fan before I even started Bridge 9. Never thought when I started the label that I would ever have a chance to work with them, and now we’ve been working together for 15 years. Or when I worked with Slapshot for the first time, I was a Slapshot fan in high school, going into college, and then to be able to put out a Greatest Hits record for them. That was 20 years ago, last fall, and to be able to continue to work with them over the years, it’s just, it’s cool.”

With 25 years in the rearview mirror and the 30th quickly approaching, Wrenn shows no signs of slowing down with either brand. During the COVID shutdown, Bridge 9 shifted their sights away from signing new artists and aimed at 25th-anniversary reissues.

“So we’ve had, I think nine different LPs that we’ve put out with like silver jackets and silver vinyl, kind of leaning into the 25th anniversary color.

Chris Wrenn (center, holding sign) and members of Boston’s hardcore-punk scene peddling “Yankees Suck” merch at Fenway in the summer of 2000

With shutdowns and restrictions a thing of the past (hopefully for good), Bridge 9 has been able to shift back to a focus on signing new artists. 2023 saw the signing of 2 new artists, Heavy Hex and Incendiary Device, the release of 5 records and 7 exclusive variants, as well as assurance that much more is sure to come.

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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!” 


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!


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 Show Review & Gallery: 8th Annual War on X-Mas. The Falcon, The Dopamines, Tightwire and others. (Chicago 12.02 – 12.03. 2022)

The War on X-Mas continues. No, not the fictional War on Christmas some people peddle as a political weapon. Here we refer to the 8th Annual War on X-Mas weekend stand, held at Reggies Rock Club this year and featuring The Falcon, The Dopamines, Tightwire; and Won’t Stay Dead on night two. The second night […]

The War on X-Mas continues. No, not the fictional War on Christmas some people peddle as a political weapon. Here we refer to the 8th Annual War on X-Mas weekend stand, held at Reggies Rock Club this year and featuring The Falcon, The Dopamines, Tightwire; and Won’t Stay Dead on night two. The second night was a plugged-in evening with full bands but night one showcased singers performing alone with their acoustic guitars and a microphone.

Night One

As Sincere Engineer, Deanna Belos typically has a full band with her on stage. On a very chilly Friday night, Belos delivered a set full of warmth and humor. She set the tempo for the low-key enjoyable evening with a setlist including “Bottle Lightening Twice,” Shattering,” “Out of Reach,” “Overbite, and Trust Me.”

English singer-songwriter Sam Russo recently participated in our World Cup coverage and on this weekend, his own national football club was still in the hunt. As I write this, it still is. But his own performance was just as is strong, albeit on a smaller stage, as those of his fellow countrymen. Running through “Runaways,” “Letting Go,” “Small Town Shoes,” “Young Heroes,” Sometimes,” Russo most surely earned new fans. Oh and playing “Merry Christmas, Baby, I’m Sorry,” was a nice nod to the holiday known for its nog.

Josh Caterer performed a setlist mostly comprised of songs by his band The Smoking Popes. He started with “Simmer Down,” then followed it with “Let’s Hear It For Love,” “Rubella,” “Paul,” and “First Time.” Caterer ended his set with a cover of the Nick Lowe penned, made famous by Elvis Costello classic, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” He was joined by what seemed to be most of those in attendance. If it wasn’t quite Christmas caroling, it was close enough for this holiday season evening. It was also lovely.

Brendan Kelly, unlike years of X-Mas past, wasn’t fronting The Lawrence Arms. However, his X-Mas present to the crowd was a set full of the aforementioned group’s songs, including “The Devil’s Takin’ Names,” “Demons,” and “Quincentuple Your Money.” Kelly added “Suffer The Children Come Unto Me,” from another of his groups, Brendan Kelly and The Wandering Birds. In a tip of the hat to one of the night’s earlier performers, Kelly performed “Young Heroes,” by Sam Russo. Neil Hennessy, Kelly’s bandmate in The Lawrence Arms and in The Falcon, as well as a member of The Smoking Popes, joined Kelly onstage for “Old Mexico Way.”

Night Two

Won’t Stay Dead might seem well-suited for Halloween shows, with its spooky aura and members dressed in all black, in what might be called “punk rock semi-formal.” Not to mention the fact that the band page describes the group as “Grungy horror pop punk from Chicago.” However, the band composed of Saffron Lair, Violet Staley, Tyler Palermo, and Will Lange, fit in perfectly as the Saturday night kick-off band. After all, it was the War on X-Mas. They band was as sharp as a “Rivers Edge,” which was also the first tune they played. This was followed up in quick succession by the rest of the set, including “Wicked Plans,” “Hack To The Bone,” “Somebody Put A Cross On My Head (And It Burned)” and “Sink Your Teeth.” Won’t Stay Dead closed out its spirited set with “Damaged Brain.”

Tightwire from Minneapolis, MN delivered a fierce set including “Party,” “Six Feet Deep,” ”Body Language,” “Spell on Me,” and “Pentagram Tattoo,” “Bitter Pill.” Group members Tane Graves, Paul Mullaney, Noelle Stolpe, and Parker Thompson brought the energy and the fun as they tore the stage up. The crowd was there for it.

The Dopamines, from the Queen City aka Cincinnati, OH, had the weekend’s penultimate time slot. The band, comprised of Jon Lewis, Jon Weiner, Josh Goldman, and Michael Dickson, roared through its set, injecting the atmosphere with a heavy dose of adrenaline. Included in said set were “You’d Make A Good Horsecop,” “Straight Papers,” “Cincinnati Harmony,” and “Heads Up Dusters,” as well as “The King of Swilling Powers Part I, II, III,” “Ire,” and “Dan Teets Runs a Marathon.” Frenzied done right.

The Falcon closed out the weekend with a forceful set and a dash of cheeky humor. band members Brendan Kelly and Neil Hennessy were, on this night, joined by Joe Principe (Rise Against) and Kody Templeman (The Lillingtons). All four were sporting matching black t-shirts with The Lawrence Arms logo, except in this case, the logo was covered over by the iconic red “NO” symbol. A wink and a nod to the fact that The Lawrence Arms was unable to make this year’s show. The setlist included a collection of some of the most unique and colorful song titles you’re bound to come across over a stretch of time. The Falcon performed, among others, “The Celebutard Chronicles,” ”Huffing The Proverbial Line Off The Proverbial Dong Or The Blood and the Frog,” ”Hasselhoff Cheeseburger,” “The Fighter, The Rube, The Asshole,” ”Feed The Monkey, Drown The Worm Or Goin’ Home,” “Building The Perfect Asshole Parade Or Scratching Off The Fleas.” The Falcon surpassed the already-high expectations. So did the weekend as a whole. Looking forward to next year’s event already. Maybe The Lawrence Arms will be on the bill?

See below for more images!

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DS Show Review & Gallery: Bad Planning, The Reaganomics, Space Age Zeros, and Burn Rebuild. Chicago (01.20.2024)

Bad Planning, The Reaganomics, Space Age Zeros, and Burn Rebuild all shared the small stage at Reggie’s Music Joint in Chicago. It was a solid night of spirited performances by bands staffed with veteran musicians. Bad Planning, a pop-punk/melodic hardcore band founded in a couple of Chicago suburbs but now based in Chicago itself, headlined […]

Bad Planning, The Reaganomics, Space Age Zeros, and Burn Rebuild all shared the small stage at Reggie’s Music Joint in Chicago. It was a solid night of spirited performances by bands staffed with veteran musicians.

Bad Planning, a pop-punk/melodic hardcore band founded in a couple of Chicago suburbs but now based in Chicago itself, headlined the more intimate stage at Reggie’s. Whatever planning Alex Crook, Jack Coombs, Kevin Levonyak, and Laurence Bactat, may have put into this show, it was anything but bad. They tore through their set which included, “Full Stomach” “Actors,” “Dead Ends and Amends,” “Midwest Classic,” and “A Year Without Sleep.” The set also featured, at the very start, “FMN,” and “Sad Truth,” both of which are 2024 newly released singles. It was an exhilarating performance.

Up next, per Alex Crook, is a short East Coast tour this spring. One of those stops will be in Queens, NY for the Music Fests Here II. Bad Planning, off of Jump Start Records, will be sharing the bill with, among many others, Warn the Duke, which includes one of Dying Scene’s occasional contributors, Dan McCool.

The Reaganomics, from Joliet, IL, has recently made a few appearances on this site, for good reason. The band – made up of Terry Morrow, Greg Alltop, Nick McLenighan, and  Eddie Cantu – continues to deliver entertaining performances since its start a decade and a half ago. This night was no exception. The driving set was drawn from across the band’s discography, and included, “Directive Five (Robocop’s Always Down),” “Don’t Worry, We’ll Play First,” “Grown Ass Man,” “Four Cliches,” “Dear Jaymez,” and “Smug Punx,” among others.

Terry Morrow told me they are writing new music now. I’d hazard a guess there will be more opportunities for you to catch The Reaganomics in the not-too-distant future. Do yourself a favor and make sure you are near the front of the stage when that future becomes the present.

Chicago’s own Space Age Zeros may be on their way to being local pop-punk heroes. The band members, who go by Nathan Zero, Tommy Zero, Steev Zero, Jason Zero, and Brian Zero, made their first live appearances in late 2022 and had a busy 2023. Presently, it is finishing up the recording of its debut album with producer Dan “Dan Precision” Wleklinski at The Bombshelter.

The band’s name was inspired by a carnival kiddie ride known as Space Age Umbrellas, according to Jason Zero. However, he told me,

We changed it to “Zeros” to sound more punk rock.”

Jason Zero also told me he came up with something else. Short sleeve button-down shirts adorned with the group’s logo, a lightning bolt.

I had come up with the idea for the matching shirts. All were on board aside from Nathan who does his own thing. But being a frontman I think that works well.

On this night, Space Age Zeros blasted through a strong set, including, “Merry Go Round,” “Smile,” ” “Wishing Well,” and “On A Date With Suzi Moon.”

You can next check out Space Age Zeros at Beat Kitchen, on February 25, 2024. The band will share the stage with The Winks, and Zoanoids.

Burn Rebuild, from the southside of Chicago, is, in 2024, celebrating its 20th anniversary as a band. It also laid the foundation for this show with a combustible performance. Band members, Frank Tsoukalas, Brian Hampson, Andy Paik, and  Kyle Prillaman, ripped through a set, which included “Save The Date,” “Monsters,” “Skin and Blood,” “Ignite,” and “A Decade of Hating Yourself Gets Old.”

Frank Tsoukalas, also of Much the Same [he mentioned he does not like to use the MTS card when it comes to his other projects], told me how Burn Rebuild got its name,

The name came from Brian and I revamping our lives, attending UIC in our mid-thirties. Both of us were in this creative purgatory while trying to navigate what people have been asking since B.C. times, “What am I doing with my life.” The line, burn and rebuild, worked its way into the first song we wrote and seemed to fit where we were and what we were doing artistically and with our lives.

Tsoukalas also updated me on what the band is doing now,

Currently, we are writing and have a few ideas sketched out we’re excited about. We’d like to release new music ASAP. No shows right now; we’ve emailed the Chicago venues a bunch so if you read this, we want to play your place.”

With regards to this show, Tsoukalas described it this way,

“The Music Joint show was so fun and in 20 plus years of playing punk shows, Reggie’s is my favorite place in the city to play and has always been good to us. Bad Planning is a great upcoming band, I’ve known most of The Reaganomics for over a decade, and how fun are they to watch play? This was also my second time playing with Space Age Zeroes who couldn’t be nicer. It was an honor to open the night up with a nice group of people, and thanks to Chris [Tracy] with 630 Productions for calling us in. Being our first show back since the shutdown, it felt really good to be back on stage.

Please check out more photos from the show! Thanks & Cheers!

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

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

Story and Photos by Meredith Goldberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Photos from The Fourth on the Third below!

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DS Staff Picks: Dylan’s Favorite Punk Albums, EPs & Things of February, 2023 (Presented by Punk Rock Radar)

Hello, and welcome to the February, 2023 edition of Dylan’s Favorite Punk Albums, EPs & Things! This is the column where I, Dylan (otherwise known as Screeching Bottlerocket), tell you what new punk rock albums, EPs, singles, etc. I enjoyed the most this month. I’m happy to announce that starting this month, this will be […]

Hello, and welcome to the February, 2023 edition of Dylan’s Favorite Punk Albums, EPs & Things! This is the column where I, Dylan (otherwise known as Screeching Bottlerocket), tell you what new punk rock albums, EPs, singles, etc. I enjoyed the most this month. I’m happy to announce that starting this month, this will be a collaborative effort with our friends at Punk Rock Radar. If you like discovering awesome new punk bands as much as I do, I highly recommend following them on Instagram and YouTube.

All that’s changing (aside from the spiffy new few graphics) is John from Punk Rock Radar and I will be doing a podcast-style video where we’ll talk about all my picks included in the written column, as well as his favorite releases every month. In other words, that means even more awesome new punk rock for all you awesome people to enjoy!

Here’s our video for February (let us know what your favorite releases of the month were in the YouTube comments):

Rocket to Rimtown

I’m a sucker for a good Ramonescore record, and this debut LP from Sydney, Australia’s Rimmingtons is a really fucking good Ramonescore record. Check out Rocket to Rimtown below and grab it on beautiful colored vinyl here (US) or here (AUS).

Crumble and Rise

I learned a long time ago not to judge a band by its name, folks. Ontario’s Hellaphant is the latest awesome band I discovered thanks to my strict adherence to that rule. If you’re into hooky pop-punk, their new album Crumble and Rise is required listening. Hit ’em up on Bandcamp to get the album on LP, cassette, etc.

Self-Titled LP

I’m a longtime fan of Fraser Murderburger’s work and his latest project Wrong Life is absolutely not an exception. I really enjoyed the band’s first two EPs that culminated in 2022’s Early Workings of an Idea. This new self-titled is another step up when it comes to songwriting and production quality. These are some of the most sincere songs Fraser has ever put out. “The Quartermile” is probably my favorite track, but “Living in the Key of Hope” is a close second since we got to host the exclusive premiere for its music video. Listen below, buy the record here (US) or here (UK) / CD, cassette & digital available here.

I’m Out

Our next stop on this punk rock trip around the globe is Germany, where we are greeted by Empire Me. These guys have been around for a decade, but this is the first time I’m hearing of them. The band brings the heat on their debut full-length I’m Out. This is an excellent melodic punk album; it reminds me a lot of another great band whose name I can’t remember right now. Download it for $5 on Bandcamp.

Trash Life

So I guess Fat Heaven‘s new record isn’t really a “new record”, it’s a compilation album of previously released EP tracks… but there’s four new songs, too! Anyway, I hadn’t heard of these guys before their music video for “Quarter Life Crisis” caught my eye while doom scrolling Instagram at 3am. Trash Life is a great introduction to this super fun Brooklyn pop-punk band. Listen below and get it on colored vinyl here.

Build Back Better

When The Walls Fell is one of many bands John from Punk Rock Radar introduced me to this month. Perhaps you saw our Band Spotlight on them? Build Back Better is the second full-length album from this “transatlantic punk band” with members in New York and Poole, England. It’s very good! The guitar playing is great (actually, it’s very intimidating to me as a mediocre guitar player). Name your price for this one on Bandcamp.

Anthem for a New Tomorrow (30th Anniversary Reissue)

Alright this one probably don’t count, but I don’t give a fuck, I’m counting it. Anthem for a New Tomorrow is my favorite Screeching Weasel album (and one of the greatest pop-punk records of all time in my humble opinion). Mike Kennerty and the gang put a shiny new coat of paint on this beast and, though it may seem sacrilegious, I like it a lot. Check out my review.

Waiting for so Long

I’m letting my Floridian bias show here, but I can’t help it. There’s something about Florida and ska that just works. The songs on Fort Myers ska-punks Bargain Bin Heroes‘ new EP Waiting for so Long are their best yet. If you’re a Less Than Jake enjoyer, you’ll like these guys. They actually just played with LTJ at the Culture Room in Ft. Lauderdale; hopefully everyone showed up early and skanked it up for Bargain Bin Heroes!

Can’t Fix Everything

It’s awesome when music grabs you right from the get-go. Something about this debut EP from Peterborough, England’s Sprainer just clicked with me. I love it and can’t wait to hear more from these guys (blokes?). Listen below, buy it here.

Trial and Error

Mixing skate punk and ska is something you’ve gotta be real fucking good to pull off. Finland’s Strum 101 is real fucking good. Their new EP Trial and Error is excellent and inspired me to go back and check out their back catalog, and you know what? That stuff’s real fucking good, too! Check ’em out, all their shit’s on Bandcamp.

“Where Drug Dealers Take Their Kids”

Frenzal Rhomb is coming off two of the best albums in their illustrious career. Does The Cup of Pestilence have what it takes to top those records? Of course it does! How dare you question Frenzal’s excellence. This lead single is killer, I can’t wait to hear more.

“Rise & Fall”

Before we leave Australia, let’s take a moment to appreciate this new song from Frenzal Rhomb’s countrymen in Fake News. These guys are a great up-and-coming band that needs to be on your radar if you like skate punk as much as I do. “Rise & Fall” is the second single from their upcoming EP Take Me Away. Check out the music video below and keep an eye out for that EP.

“Kill Em Dead”

This list needs some more ska, and our Bri’ish friends Faintest Idea are the right band for the job. “Kill Em Dead” is from their long-awaited new album The Road to Sedition, due out March 31st on TNS Records and Jump Start Records. Recommended listening if you’re into harder edged ska-punk like the Suicide Machines.

“Road Less Traveled” & “Over The Target”

February saw the release of two new singles from the hottest new band in skate punk: Bridge The Gap. Their highly anticipated debut LP Secret Kombinations was recorded with Bill Stevenson at The Blasting Room. All the singles have been top notch; the hype is deserved. Check out the tracks below and pre-order the record here.

“Left for Dead”

And back to Australia we go! Newcastle’s Long Distance make a very good first impression with their debut single “Left for Dead”. These skate punk (are you sensing a theme here?) newcomers have a bit of a poppy slant that I enjoy. Check ’em out and stay tuned for their second single “What You Want” and eventual debut EP.

“Against the Rest”

Skate punk and ska: that’s apparently all I fucking listen to. Anyway, here’s another ska song. It’s the first single off Omnigone‘s new album Against the Rest, which is due out March 31st on the ska powerhouse that is Bad Time Records. Two former members of Link 80 are in this East Bay ska-core band, and if you like Link 80 (or Against All Authority, Voodoo Glow Skulls, or any other hardcore-infused ska bands), I can say with full confidence you will like these guys. Music video down there, pre-order over here.


Alright, now that our monthly ska quota has been met, time for some more skate punk! I’ve been pimping this (one man) band out for a few months now and I’m not stopping any time soon. Montreal’s Dead Alright is dropping new singles all the time. The latest one “Parasites” is a great song. Listen to it below and stay tuned for more on their debut album; release date TBA on Thousand Islands Records.

“Let’s Murderlize ‘Em!”

Look, it’s another Canadian skate punk band on Thousand Islands Records! I promise they’re not paying me to heap praise on their bands, that label just puts out really good shit. Debt Cemetary‘s new single is awesome! I think it’s time these guys released an album, eh? Fun fact: the singer from this band makes a guest appearance on that Dead Alright song I just talked about.

“Reaching Out”

Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s Red Atlanta reminds me a lot of early 2000’s pop-punk but faster and with really cool lead guitar parts. Their new single “Reaching Out” has a kinda Slick Shoes-ish vibe. Check it out and if you like it, go back and listen to the band’s 2019 debut album Unsettled. Also keep an eye out for a next album coming soon.

“Damage Control”

Brighton, England’s Making Friends are either named after a No Use For A Name album or a Lagwagon song, so that should give you a good idea of what their music sounds like. They just put out a great new single called “Damage Control”. Check out the music video for it below and stay tuned for more on the band’s upcoming album.

In case you didn’t already see it (and actually give a shit), I posted a list of my Top 10 favorite punk albums of all time. It’s hardly a definitive list, most of the shit’s from the 90’s and later. I guess if you want a better idea of the kinda shit I’m into, this is a good way to find out! Check out my list here.

February was a busy month for the Dying Scene Record Radar! The biggest announcement in the world of punk rock vinyl was probably the 25th Anniversary reissue of ALL‘s Mass Nerder. I got my copy (actually I bought two variants because I have no self control), did you? Go here for more info on where to send your money.

Have you checked out the awesome interview Dying Scene’s Jason Stone did with Jason White of Green Day, Pinhead Gunpowder, The Influents & a million other bands??? Stop what you’re doing and check that shit out, it’s awesome! Read the interview here.

That concludes the February installment of the column. Thanks for checking it out! Keep your eyes glued to Dying Scene for all things punk rock and follow our friends Punk Rock Radar on Instagram, YouTube, etc. And be sure to join us again for the March edition; it’s already shaping up to be a killer month for new releases!

Here’s a Spotify playlist with songs from all the releases featured in Dying Scene & Punk Rock Radar’s Best of 2023 series so far:

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No Dead Heroes

Chicago punk rock trio with a simple mission statement: “We’re here to fuck shit up.”