Buck-O-Nine is an American ska punk band which was formed in San Diego in 1991. The band has toured internationally and released several albums and EPs, as well as appearing on compilations and film soundtracks. During the mid-to-late 1990s, they experienced mainstream success with the release of the album Twenty-Eight Teeth and its most successful single, “My Town”.
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In 2001, I moved to the Northern English city of Leeds, in part because of the live music venue, The Cockpit. This small venue put on all my favourite bands of the time, and had a long history of putting on great live music. I worked in another venue in the city on weekends, so Tuesday night was my big night out, and Tuesday nights were Slam Dunk at The Cockpit. A solid mix of ska punk, pop punk, emo, rock, metal and whatever else alternative kids were listening to in the early 2000’s.
So here I am, 21 years later. The Cockpit has long since shut down and whilst the Slam Dunk Club Night plays on at its new home, the Key Club, it’s the festival that I am at today. Now held across two cities with more than 50 bands, across five stages, things have really grown from that two room sweaty Tuesday night under a railway arch.
The lineup covers a wide range of punk and alternative music, but because I’m old and stuck in my ways, I’m mostly staying at the Dickies stage, which is the main stage this year, hosting The Suicide Machines, The Bronx, Hot Water Music, The Vandals, Streetlight Manifesto, Pennywise, The Interrupters, The Dropkick Murphy’s and headliners Sum 41.
I’d originally bought tickets on the basis that Rancid were headlining, but they pulled out for undisclosed reasons. Then support from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones collapsed along with the band. Things were looking bleak, and I actually looked into selling my ticket, only to have two of my close friends and original Slam Dunk allies to buy tickets, so it was to be a big day out for us old guys.
The venue for the festival is Temple Newsam House. For further personal historic links, this was the site of the first music festival I ever went to (V98), and a big part of my musical taste was formed in these park lands. The benefit of this location for me is that it is close to home, the downside is that it still takes an hour and a half to get in, as traffic is not well managed and everything is already getting expensive (£10 to park in a field, £10 for a bus), I’d planned to ride my bike to the event, but for three of us, that didn’t make much sense.
Inside the arena, the stages are far enough apart that there is little noise mix from bands and practicalities like bars, toilets and food concessions are plentiful, the addition of a separate “real ale” bar was a pleasant surprise, and I managed to spend an impressive amount in this tent after and before every band. The tent also provides some welcome shade from the unexpected sun that I was totally unprepared for!
So, on to the music…
Hot Water Music, a band that I’ve discovered backwards through Chuck Ragan’s solo work, come out impassioned and full of energy, although the crowd are a little flat with it being an early set. Despite this we get a solid effort from the band, though possibly things are held back a little by a lack of catchy hooks and sing along choruses in the songs performed. Finishing with “Trusty Chords” gets the crowd interested from hearing a song they know. Whether they know the song from Epitaph‘s Punk-o-Rama compilation, or it’s just a favourite is hard to say, but in a pre-internet world, compilations from Independent punk labels are how a lot of us discovered new bands, especially those that didn’t tour the small northern venues like the Cockpit!
A quick trip to the bar revealed the sound of Punk Rock Factory carrying on the wind from the Rock Sound Stage. I was familiar with the band from their Youtube videos of punked up, harmonized pop covers, and as a father of small children, I found myself singing along to “Let It Go”, whilst appropriately stood at a urinal. If I have to play Disney songs on long journeys, then at least they can have crushing guitars as well, and hopefully, like some kind of gateway drug, this leads my kids down the path of home made tattoos and living in a van (or some other punk cliché).
The Vandals took to the stage with a not too reassuring “We’ll do our best”, and whilst I appreciate their honesty and openness, first song “Café 405”, is out of time and out of tune.
Three songs in, things are starting to tighten up, “People That Are Going To Hell” gets people moving a little, but on the whole, the crowd remain static. “And Now We Dance” raises the energy, “The New You” keeps it going, but there’s just not enough there to hold the attention of the majority of the crowd. My friends desert me to hit the real ale bar, I hate myself for giving up on the mighty Vandals, but cold beer and the Cancer Bats on the Jagermeister stage lure me away. I’m not massively familiar with the Cancer Bats, but the wall of noise, that I could feel through the ground and see vibrating through my pint has led me to listen to more of their back catalogue.
I had a dream the night before Slam Dunk that I took all my family to see Streetlight Manifesto, but instead of their usual set list, they played a really challenging, four hour Jazz set, stopping only to enjoy a sit down meal, where they served soup from tea pots. I was trying desperately to convince my family that really, they’re a great band, whilst simultaneously enjoying the weird spectacle.
Fortunately, there’s no Jazz today as Streetlight Manifesto, a later addition to the bill, take to the stage. There’s a clear sense of excitement in the crowd as the eight piece tear through classic hits “We Will Fall Together” and “The Three Of Us” along with lesser known tracks with a level of energy normally reserved for headline shows. The crowd sings along, dances, moshes; it’s a perfect blend of everything you want on a summers day. The only slight letdown is Tomas Kalnoky shouting “this is the big finish!” and then promptly not playing “Keasbey Nights.” I get the reasons, and I support them in letting go of a song that doesn’t really represent the band, but for many in the crowd it’s the song they came to hear and there’s visible confusion as the band leave the stage, though encores aren’t really a thing at 16:30 on a festival stage are they?
I last saw Pennywise in 1999. So its been a while. Late last year I read Jim Lindberg’s book “Punk Rock Dad,” which renewed my interest in the band, so I’m excited to see this set, and if the number of Pennywise T-shirts I’m seeing are anything to go by, so are the crowd.
From the get go, the band are on full attack. There’s no sign of age in the band and the crowd are loving it. Covers of AC/DC’s “TNT” and “Breed” by Nirvana continues the energy. Early songs “Pennywise” and “Society” lead to Lindberg lamenting to having been “doing this for thirty years,” but it’s not slowing them down.
The crowd holds middle fingers aloft for “Fuck Authority,” and whilst it feels cheesy, a load of middle aged men swearing at the sky, its kind of cathartic, and hey, it’s a great song! Who doesn’t enjoy feeling like an angry teenager (teenagers maybe?).
A cover of “Stand By Me,” which closed 1992 album Wild Card/ A Word From The ‘Wise surprised me, as I was certain it was Lagwagon, so I learned something important today if nothing else.
Set closer “Bro-Hymn” has exactly the effect you’d expect. Huge “wooahs” from the crowd, that epic bass riff and impassioned singing along. Obviously it’s a great song, but I think it hits harder now, after the last few years and I think everyone can take some strength from this song and apply it to someone they’ve lost.
The Interrupters carry a strange position in my mind. I love their songs, they’re great live, but there’s just something not quite right. Something doesn’t sit right with me, and I hate myself for being so negative, but its all a bit too clean cut for me. Like it’s the soundtrack to Disney film where some hopelessly good looking, talented young people form a ska punk band and take over the world with a weird crusty mentor behind them (Called Tim?).
Opener “Take Back the Power” feels stronger than normal. Maybe its that they’re more established, or maybe my cynicism is fading? Either way I enjoy it for what it is, well polished, perfectly-performed ska pop-punk.
Ignoring a weird segue about how they all used to bathe together… “She got arrested” gets a great crowd sing along, and is probably my favourite of their songs, not least as it was my introduction to the band back in 2017 and a great example of the quality story telling in the lyrics of some of their songs.
A cover medley of “Keep ‘Em Separated”/ “Linoleum”/ “Ruby Soho” gets the crowd going before surprise high point for me, a cover of Bad Religion‘s “Sorrow,” which goes down well with the crowd (For reference Bad Religion played Slam Dunk in 2019, as did the Interrupters).
The band finishes with “She’s Kerosene,” keeping the party going, the crowd moving and generally capturing the moment nicely. People are drunk, its sunny, the people want to dance and the Interrupters deliver.
The Dropkick Murphys take to a stage with a full length riser, done out to look like a stone wall, but there is a notable absence. Al Barr, it is announced, has stayed home to care for his sick mother. Ken Casey steps up for lead vocal duties and the evening begins with the sound of bagpipes on the cool evening breeze.
“State of Massachusetts” gets the kind of crowd reaction you’d expect from a classic pop hit or a song about Yorkshire, such passion for such a challenging subject is strange, but hey, it’s a great song and the drunk, bouncy, dancey crowd are loving it.
“Barroom Hero” is introduced as the first song the band ever wrote, which is a bit of trivia I didn’t know, but I remember it from way back in the 90s, so I guess that makes sense. The crowd offer weak “Oi! Oi! Oi!” effort which is a disappointment, maybe the crowd aren’t as au fait with shouting Oi! as I’d like? Though I accept my drive to shout “Oi!” is probably higher than most.
The slip up begins with the instruction to sing along to the 1937 hit “I’ve Still Got Ninety-Nine” by the Monroe Brothers, which although an undeniably good song, probably isn’t too familiar to the crowd today. On the upside, we’re promised an acoustic album in September, which is one to look out for. Whether it’s new material or reimagined classics has not been confirmed, but hopefully there will be an associated tour.
“Rose Tattoo” brings the sing along from the crowd, but lacks the momentum to get the crowd moving. This is exacerbated by the big screen showing bored, static faces in the crowd for the first time. Fortunately, “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” brings the party back before the end of the set. I’ve never seen such passion for a missing wooden leg, as the crowd goes nuts, with crowd surfers from all directions riding above the waves of the crowd. All parties appear to have legs intact, so that’s good.
Headliners Sum-41 were a bit of a quandary for me. The first album was an important soundtrack to my late teens/ early 20s and I saw them play in Leeds twice in 2002, but I haven’t listened to their music since Does This Look Infected from the same year.
A bit of pre-show research suggested they have had seven further releases, including 2019s Order In Decline, but in the spirit of openness, I’ve not felt inspired to check these out.
The band come out to a stage with blood-soaked Marshall speaker cabinets, a giant skull, jets of fire and “Motivation” from the first album, All Killer, No Filler. More people than I expected are really into it, though competition with Deaf Havana and the Nova Twins is limited and the other stages have closed.
The stage is set for a night of big rock and I’d like to say I invested more effort into rediscovering Sum 41, but too much sun, too much beer and a designated driver who wanted to beat the traffic meant we made an early exit.
At least from a new music perspective, it’s been a bit since we’ve heard from Cory Branan. The criminally-underrated Memphian singer-songwriter-guitar-virtuoso released his last studio record, Adios, on Bloodshot Records back in April 2017. For most artists who’ve found themselves making anything resembling a career in the music industry, the cycle typically goes a little something like this: write an album, record an album, tour an album, lather, rinse, repeat every couple of years ad infinitum. Branan made it through at least two of three stages on the Adios cycle but then, well, then life got in the way. That’s not to say that he was holed up in Tennessee twiddling his thumbs for the last half-decade; far from it, in fact. It’s just that there was the whole thing about the demise of his former label (Google it…or don’t), the demise of his marriage, the ongoing responsibility of parenting a couple of kids…oh, and there was that whole thing with the plague.
And so fast-forward to the present day and we find Branan awaiting the imminent release of his sixth studio album. It’s called When I Go, I Ghost and it’s due out this Friday (October 14th) on a brand new label (Blue Elan Records) and it’s good. Real good. Overwhelmingly good. And I say that as someone that was familiar with more than half of the record through a combination of live performances and streaming events and digital-only compilations put together during the quarantiniest days of the pandemic. It’s got all of the hallmarks of classic Branan: detailed storytelling filled with his patented razor-sharp, quick-witted evil streak, varied sonic feels and textures that invoke the best parts of 70s (and, I suppose, 90s) album radio, massive, death-defying guitar riffs and a level of musicality that somehow takes more twists and turns than the lyrics they provide the soundscape for. It’s just that the highs are higher and the lows are lower and the textures are…texturier.
When I Go, I Ghost is comprised largely of songs written prior to the Covid pandemic. The years immediately prior to the shutdown found Branan changing up the way he had worked for the first decade-plus of his career. More specifically, he worked himself into the habit of writing increasingly while he was on the road in the years leading up to the plague breakout. It was not, at first, a skill that came naturally. “I would normally write when I got home off the road because I’d be restless,” Branan explains. Having young kids, however, allows a different outlet for that restlessness. “When I had kids, and especially when Clem came along…I’d want to get off the road and just catch up. Like “who’s this kid? He’s a completely different kid than he was when I left three weeks ago!”
Eventually, Branan forced himself to change his routine. “I find that if I get up in the morning, before I start the car, if I just start making connections and looking at things around me and actually seeing, you know, instead of just driving down the road, then I can write.” The new methodology worked well, to the extent that in the lead-up to the pandemic, Branan was especially prolific. “I had a good year…I wrote like fifty songs, which is how I wrote when I first started writing (music). I hadn’t written like that in a long time.”
That prolific tour-based writing period obviously came to a screeching halt along with the rest of the music industry and, frankly, the rest of real life in early 2020 with the dawn of the COVID pandemic. But that doesn’t mean that Branan sat idly by waiting for things to reopen. In addition to hosting a weekly Instagram Live-based chat show called UMM… that found him chatting with songwriting buddies like Brian Fallon and Ben Nichols and Amanda Shires, Branan also put out a series of five B-sides/glorified demos/oddities compilations called Quarantunes: Now That’s What I Call Isolation, taught online guitar lessons (to people like my brother), worked on his drum machine/synth skills, and set up his own home-based recording rig.
Skip ahead a bit and it was time to hit the actual studio with a virtual treasure trove of material to pick from. As mentioned above, Branan had already been playing a handful of the new tracks live, and if you’ve ever caught the Cory Branan live show more than, say, once, you’re no doubt aware that each song continues to take on a life of its own the more it gets played, and it’s probable that you’ve never heard the same song played the same way twice. “You know me,” says Branan, “I’ve gotta keep myself interested on stage, so I tend to take ‘em out and play ‘em.”
And so even if you’ve gotten familiar with a newer song like “Oh, Charlene” or “Pocket Of God,” that doesn’t mean you really know the song until you hear it on When I Go, I Ghost, complete with the full scope of sonic textures and layers of instrumentation. As an aside or an editor’s note or whatever you want to call it, even though you’ve maybe heard his Quarantunes track “Stepping Outside” – a damn-near perfect tune about a literal ghost who is leaving his own funeral – and expected that it would obviously be on an album called When I Go, I Ghost, you’d be wrong. Probably too on-the-nose, but that’s why I don’t pretend I’m a songwriter.
Though he might play most songs live accompanied only by a guitar, they tend to be written with a much larger sound in mind. “Usually as I’m writing, I hear them a certain way, and it’s almost always more fleshed out,” Branan explains, adding in a way that’s both charmingly sweet and hauntingly morbid (which, I guess, sums up a lot of his songwriting), “when I’m dead and gone, I would like for the songs to live on in the form that I hear them in my head.” While getting in the studio might open up a song to added creativity when it comes to instrumentation and overall feel of a song, the song itself already exists, at least in Branan’s brain. “I don’t just want a skeleton, I want all the clothes and the flesh on it, and I want it to be able to tell a story musically, rhythmically, lyrically (when) stripped down to just a guitar and me, then when we take it to the studio it’s just fun.”
While Branan obviously had a lot of personal experience to pull from during the ongoing songwriting process, divorce namely, a cursory listen to When I Go, I Ghost will reveal that, as is par for the course with much of his catalog, many of the songs are not outwardly personal. Some writers have that thing where they’re very clearly writing about their own experiences, but they do so in a way that it’s relatable to the listener. A personal favorite of mine in that area who travels in many of the same circles as Branan is Dave Hause. Branan, for his part, tends to agree. “He derails mystique, you know? Dave’s music is great because it goes outward and it’s useful. “He’s like ‘here’s an example of my thing, but it’s really for all of us; it’s all of our thing.” Branan has a habit of building characters and putting them in sometimes compromising or less-than-desirable positions, almost creating mini four-minute sonic movies. “I’m not a confessional writer,” he states, adding “I think only one song, “That Look I Lost,” deals with (divorce) pretty straight, but even then, I made the music undercut the sadness of the song. I wanted that Motown thing where it’s kind of a triumphant sadness.”
When pushed a little more on the topic, Branan explains somewhat coyly that “I just don’t interest myself very much,” adding “I’m as narcissistic as the next person that stands on the stage with a microphone, but I just don’t find my life or whatever else to be that extraordinary.” Instead of writing confessional-type narratives, Branan is able to turn his experiences into something constructive nonetheless; it’s just in a different form. “I do find that if I make something out of my emotions or construct something out of it and form it…into a shape that’s outside myself, I can pour all of that into it.”
Much of that character-building and storytelling traces its way back a number of years, although not in a typical songwriting way, as the forty-seven-year-old Branan is quick to point out that while he has been playing guitar since he was thirteen, he didn’t write his first song until he was almost twenty-five. Instead, he shouts out one particular teacher who helped pave the way for the raconteur he became. “I had a really great creative writing teacher in high school, Miss Evelyn Sims,” he explains. “I was just fucking off in school and she was like “here, I know you’re not interested in what we’re doing, so here’s some Henry Miller.” She sorta steered me into stuff she knew I’d be interested in.“
Branan hits the road later this week for the first of the When I Go, I Ghost tour, a run that’ll take him pretty much through the end of the year. And strange as it might be to think about on the eve of the release of his first studio album in more than five years, he’s looking forward to the long drives and the time they’ll give him to start crafting new characters and stories to help make sense of the last few years in a new and different way that might be beneficial to people in his own unique way. “I personally use music like that. It’s gotten me through a lot,” he explains. “That’s my highest goal, to have these little things that are useful.“
Pre-order bundles for When I Go, I Ghost in a variety of different options are still available here; get ’em while they’re hot! You can also find the latest on Cory’s tour schedule (including a bunch of solo dates and a run with American Aquarium) right here. Scroll a little further and you can read our full Q&A. Unlike the first time Cory and I spoke for an interview story, I actually didn’t forget to hit “record” this time!
Photo credit: Jamie Harmon – https://www.instagram.com/amuricaworld/
(Editor’s note: The following has been edited and condensed for clarity’s sake. Also I tried to find the eight-year-old story that I wrote around the release of Cory’s The No-Hit Wonder album based on an interview we did at an Irish bar he was playing in New Hampshire, but it seems to be lost to the annals of internet history.)
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how are you? It’s good to chat with you again. I have to say congratulations on the new record. I’ve been a fan for a long time obviously and I’ve known probably half the record already, whether through Quarantunes or from seeing you live a few times the last couple of years, and even still, I was floored by how the album came out. It is REALLY good.
Cory Branan: Yeah it was fun! The songs have been around a piece, I had a bunch of other ones too, but this just sort of felt like a batch that was kind of kin to each other. But you know me, as soon as I write them I start playing them, so people know them by the time they come out. I don’t know another way to do it, you know? I’ve gotta keep myself interested on stage, so I tend to take ‘em out and play ‘em.
Yeah, but they tend to find a new life. I think it’s fair to say that if someone has seen you more than twice, not only have you heard a different set but every song doesn’t sound the same every time you do it. You tend to chase them a bit. Like, there’s a couple on this record that I feel like I’ve heard a bunch from Quarantunes – because those were such fun records – maybe “Room 101” and “Angels In The Details” that are such different songs that it took me a bit to recognize them. When you’re writing a song, do you have in your head “okay, I know I’m going to have to play it like this, but ultimately I know what I want it to sound like in a bigger format, or does some of that difference come out of chasing the song while you’re performing?
Usually as I’m writing I hear them a certain way, and it’s almost always more fleshed out. I play solo out of necessity, you know? Fiscal necessity. And so, when I’m dead and gone, I would like for the songs to live on in the form that I sort of hear them in my head. But then again, I go in the studio and I try to stay interested in the music. I’ve heard these songs (*both laugh*). So that one in particular, “Angels In the Details,” I wrote a nice little melody finger-picked on the guitar, and on this record, some of those finger-picking things I gave to other things. There’s a synth part there, there’s strings…to me it’s like, well, I wrote the melody, who gives a shit what instrument it’s on. (*both laugh*) To me, it’s more interesting and engaging in the song if that gets switched over to a synth or this or that. I approach it more as a musician rather than as a ‘singer-songwriter.’ I have ambitions a little bit beyond strumming the old acoustic guitar (*both laugh*).
Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite things are people standing there delivering stripped-down songs. But that’s how I know I have a song. If I went in and built these songs in layers and layers and stacked stuff on each other and added some lyrics and went out there with an acoustic guitar, I’d be playing and it would be like “oh shit, there’s not a song under here.” (*both laugh*) I don’t just want a skeleton, I want all the clothes and the flesh on it and I want it to be able to tell a story musically, rhythmically, lyrically, stripped down to just a guitar and me, and then it the studio, it’s just fun.
I feel like sometimes it changes the context of the song too. I feel like “Angels In the Details” especially, I (think) I heard it differently because of all the instrumentation. It paints a bit of a different picture when it’s just you and an acoustic guitar. Or even an electric? I feel like you’ve done that one solo on the Telecaster when you’ve played it live.
Yeah, I do ‘em all on different nights on different instruments. I might bring this piano out too this time and just sorta move around. I just have to stay interested in them. They do work their way into new iterations on the road and I find different things about them. Even once they’re done, like, I’m learning all these songs on piano and I’m just like “AWWW! I blew it!” Like “Pocket of God” (*plays riff on keyboard*) it’s like “oh crap!” All I’m doing is the guitar riff in the song and it’s really low, I’ve got the strings accenting it, I’m like “oh man, that would have been such a good little thing on piano, I should have accentuated it.”
See but that sorta changes the image that you have of the narrator in that song too if it’s just you and a guitar versus just you and that little synth riff. Like, I feel like I tend to see a lot of your songs visually because of the way that you build imagery into the song…
…so you start to put together a picture of the guy that’s singing that song, because obviously it’s not you. Or maybe it is…
No, that one’s not me. I’m a piece of shit, but not like that piece of shit (*both laugh*).
And that’s a thing we can get into later – not the being a piece of shit part, but the sort of thing that we do as listeners where we make the narrator of the song the writer of the song, where we don’t do that for, say, filmmakers necessarily –
Or almost any other art.
And it’s sort of unfair that we do that to musicians that we do that.
Unless…so many musicians use that mythos for mystique and stuff. That’s never interested me personally, but some people make whole careers out of that, and their songs being them, that whole thing.
You mean Springsteen? (*both laugh*) I love Bruce Springsteen, I really do, but…
He works in stories, He came to represent things that were bigger than himself, yeah. But he works in stories. But your Joni Mitchell’s and people like that…some people come to expect a confessional…
And some guys, well, not just guys, but some songwriters do that. They are writing their lived experience and sort of explaining it to you in a way you can relate to. I think Dave Hause does that super well. A lot of Dave Hause’s material is about his life, he doesn’t necessarily create a lot of characters, but he’s really good at tapping into that “thing.”
Yeah, and it’s great. He’s good too because he derails mystique, you know? I like it when people write about their life but they make it outward facing to where it’s useful for everybody else. To me that’s a dead end, when you’re writing about your life but you’re only pointing it back at yourself. Dave’s music is great because it goes out and it’s useful. He’s like “here’s an example of my thing, but it’s really for all of us, it’s all of our ‘thing,” you know? I like that. I don’t do that very much personally, but I can appreciate that.
Do you think that’s a…I don’t want to say a “skill” thing because “skill” isn’t the right word to use there…but do you think that’s just a thing that some people do better? Like, they have that “thing” where they can write about personal things that way where some people are better at creating characters and telling stories…
I don’t know, I think it’s just that sometimes you have your natural dispositions, you know? Your inclinations. I haven’t thought about it a whole lot and when I start to think about things like that (*both laugh*) it’s detrimental to creating, I find. I just try to not think. And honestly, for me, I try to not exist. I’ve said it before, but I just don’t interest myself that much, you know? And I’m as narcissistic as the next person that stands on the stage with a microphone, but I just don’t find my life or whatever else to be that extraordinary, you know? But I do find that if I make something out of my emotions or construct something out of it and form it into a shape – into art, really – into a shape that’s outside of myself, I can pour all of that into it, and then it’s in a shape that it’s hard to knock over. It’s something that can be taken and, ideally, used. Because I personally used music like that. It got me through a lot, you know? Five times a week I sing that Petty line “most things I worry about never happen anyway”! I might as well have it tattooed on my forehead. That’s my highest goal, to have these little things that are useful.
When did you realize that that part was a thing that you did particularly well? I think it’s one thing to be a guitar player and to come up as a kid learning how to play guitar and to understand that you’ve been building skills and that you’re a pretty good player. But when did you realize that you could write like that pretty well, and that you could create those sorts of characters and narrative things, did that come from writing music, or did that come from writing in general in school?
Probably writing in general, but I didn’t write a song til I was almost 25, and I’ve played guitar since I was thirteen. But yeah…I had a really great creative writing teacher in high school, Miss Evelyn Sims, she was wonderful. I was just fucking off in school and she was like “here, I know you’re not interested in what we’re doing, (*both laugh*) here’s Henry Miller…” She sorta steered me into stuff she knew I’d be interested in. I loved to read, I’ve always loved poetry. I love the conciseness of poetry, and when I started seeing writers that could do that, your Guy Clarks or your Leonard Cohens, their songs are like Yates poems or something, you know? I always enjoyed that. It might be because I did it relatively late in my youth, so I don’t have a lot of embarrassing solipsistic things. I mean, not that I had my shit straightened out at twenty-five (*both laugh*).
Yeah, you might be in a different place if you wrote songs when you were fifteen. That’s a different trajectory.
Exactly. They would have been much more self-absorbed and much less usable and user-friendly.
I know you sorta got into the habit of writing a lot on the road.
Yeah, I had to sorta train myself to do that, because I never did it at first.
I don’t remember if that’s a thing that we’ve talked about before or if I’ve just seen you talk about it, but was that the last few years before the pandemic that that started? And is that where a lot of these songs came from?
Yeah, absolutely. I have talked about it before, but I used to not write on the road because I’ve mostly toured solo, so it’s just work getting from place to place. I would normally write when I got home off the road because I’d be restless, but when I had kids, and especially when Clem came along – because my daughter from a previous relationship is in Tulsa – when we had Clem, I’d want to get off the road and just catch up. Like “who’s this kid? He’s a completely different kid than he was when I left three weeks ago!” So I had to teach myself to write on the road. I would systematically; I find that if I get up in the morning, before I start the car, if I just start making connections and looking at things around me and actually seeing, you know, instead of just driving down the road. If I start connecting separate things in that mind-frame, then I can write. I had a good year (before the pandemic); I wrote like 50 songs, which is how I wrote when I first started writing. I hadn’t written like that in a long time. That turned out to be good because the plague happened (*both laugh*) and I was too busy learning how to mix and record at home so I could do those Quarantunes records and so I could pay the bills and shit. So fortunately I had a good run! I went in to demo those songs up; I did a batch of like thirty of them and I trickled some of those demos out on those Quarantunes records.
Were those things you were demoing just with your setup or did you go into the studio?
No, that was before I even had my setup. I went in before quarantine to the old Sam Phillips studio with Matt Ross-Spang, before he moved into his own place there.
I’ve heard really good things about the new place he built.
Oh man, it is world-class. It’s so gorgeous. It’s amazing. I dropped in when Ben and his daughter came in to do that synth record. I dropped in when she was singing on it, and it is so good.
I’m really looking forward to hearing that.
It’s really good! When I did that tour with Ben, we were drunk back at the hotel and he was like “listen to this!” We listened to the whole thing twice. It’s not mixed or anything, but man, it was fun.
It’s interesting that for a guy who rather notoriously says he cannot be harmonized with…although maybe that’s just a matter of not wanting Brian and John C. singing. (*both laugh*)
She sings some in unison a lot too. Their voices are different registers, but man she can really sing. It’s great. It’s so cool, and I’m just so jealous of it. I’ve tried to get Clem to make music with me…like, I’ve got my whole room tricked out, and he likes to dance and stuff, so I’ve got a drum machine and I’ve got all these hue lights set up and I turned it into fun town room and nope…I can’t get him to hang and make music with me. He’s got his own world with Pokemon and tae kwon do now, which is great. But Ben getting to make music with his daughter, I’m just like “oh I am so jealous!” (*both laugh*)
And I wonder if that’s an age thing too.
It probably is. Clem’s too young.
Yeah, and they’re always going to not like what their parents like for a while.
Well, what his dad likes. (*both laugh*) He likes everything his mom likes for now. I’m sure it’ll flip-flop in his teens, but we’ll see.
There are actually a couple of songs that I know either from the live show or from Quarantunes that I’m surprised weren’t on the record. “Steppin Outside” I think is chief among them. I think that song is brilliant from start to finish. I think the whole perspective of the song and the way that you tell the story, and musically as well, I think it’s perfect. So I’m surprised that song wasn’t on the record. There are others like “Teeny Says” is a cool song, “Me and Your Mom n’Em” is a fun song but I can see where maybe those don’t fit. What went into the math of what made the final eleven?
Well, there’s actually fourteen. There’s three we pulled just because they don’t fit on the vinyl so they’ll come out on the deluxe thing. They’ll just go right up on the internet, it’s not like I’m trying to charge people twice for anything. You know, I never write records that fit sonically, but thematically, they’re all in one way or another dealing with a sort of restlessness and stasis – and I wrote the bulk of them before the plague, you know? But leading up to the old lady and I getting a divorce, that might have informed it a bit. Again, I’m not a confessional writer, I think only one song, “That Look I Lost,” deals with it pretty straight, but even then, I made the music undercut the sadness of the song. I wanted that Motown thing where it’s kind of a triumphant sadness. But in general there’s some things I was dealing with, and some stories just resonated with me. Yeah, that “Steppin’ Outside” song is an okay song. One of these days, I’ll probably do a record with sort of those types of songs; relatively traditional songs with fresher angles. I have some other songs like that. That particular song was just odd man out. There were a lot of those.
Well, when you have fifty songs to choose from…
Well, that was just that batch, I have some old ones laying around too. That batch was all over the place, and I just sort of found the ones that were kin. And the ones that we pulled, I think the record is better with them, but they are reiterations of themes. There’s one that Adam Lazzara sings on and it’s one of the darker ones, but it’s sort of a reiteration of not so much the vitriol of a “When I Leave Here” but it’s sort of a psychotic song, and I was like “well, I’ve already covered that area.” And then the other two, I put “Son Of Mine” on there and I put “Gatlinburg” on there, and we cut them relatively roots. “Gatlingburg” is like a fucking Glen Campbell kind of thing. And “Son of Mine” is like The Beatles doing country music. They were fun, and I think they came out great, but they were pretty jarring.
And I like jarring from song to song, but they were going to have to be placed right on the album, and I found that since I was going to have to pull some for vinyl anyway, I would just do the eleven. And actually, I was going to just do ten but it needed a breather right towards the end, so I put that “Come On If You Wanna Come” on there which is a lighter one. Some of the themes are still there in the verses and stuff like that, but the record itself is like “I’m going out, come on if you wanna come.” It’s a very, very simple tune, and I was just thought the record is very dense, like I tend to do, and it needed a little bit of an opening thing right before it got to the closer.
I’m really curious to listen to it with the three additional songs now. I’ve listened to the eleven-song version more in the last week than I’ve listened to most albums in most weeks, so now I have this image of the album in my head and now it’s going to completely change when the three extra songs get added on.
I like that! (*both laugh*) And I think that most people that form an opinion of the record before the deluxe thing comes out will understand why I chose those songs to hold back.
I tend to be a bit of a brat about that sort of stuff. When people put out B-sides and I think “this is a really great song, why wasn’t this on the record,” but then because I’m not an artist or a musician, I don’t think of the 10,000-foot view of it sometimes and how things actually fit.
That’s how I’ve always done it before. All my previous records, except for The No-Hit Wonder where I was trying to make a thirty-minute record, all the other ones are like an hour long so I’ve always had to take tracks off for the vinyl, where you can’t go over thirty-eight or forty minutes. So I’ve always just taken them off but put them out on the CDs or put them out (digitally) with the initial release. Nowadays you’ve got to fool the algorithm gods, because the record is DOA. Everything is pre-ordered, all the press is right before it comes out, then six months later nobody talks about a record anymore; there’s no longevity. So you see more people putting deluxe things out. Originally I was just going to be like “well, I’ll just put out some of those demos that nobody’s heard, throw some acoustic demos on.” And then I was just like “no, let’s just make a tight thirty-eight or forty-minute record and then add those songs as a deluxe thing to fool our algorithm lords.
When does tour kick-off for this particular run? Next week, yeah?
I leave the thirteenth and the album comes out the fourteenth. I’ll be out for the rest of the year with little breaks here and there. I take January off and then I think I go back out in February.
What was the longest that you went during the plague without playing in front of people?
All of it until we got that first false “all clear,” so I guess June of last year. I started touring a bit then, and I’ve done like three or four tours almost with like every new strain.
Has it been good getting back out there, and I say that knowing obviously that it’s good because that’s why people do it, but was it nervous at first getting back out?
Nope, it’s great. I love it. I need it. I mean, it’s a fiscal necessity, but I enjoy it. Everything between getting off stage one night and getting back on stage the next night in the next town is a pain in the ass, but those two hours on stage is the only therapy I get. It’s great. Things changed obviously, a lot of clubs didn’t hang on, the road is really competitive because everyone is trying to tour. The paradigm shifts a little bit here and there, but honestly this whole business has changed out from under me three times since I started. I started right around the time of Napster (*both laugh*) so now we’re in the Spotify era and that genie’s not going back in the bottle. It’s not like people are going to say “oh I can have all of those songs for only ten dollars, let me start buying records again!”
I really miscalculated that, because I thought that people would still buy records. People still bought records when the radio was free and when cassette tapes existed.
Everything gets more niche, you know? So you have your fans and they have to, unfortunately, be more supportive. They come to the shows and they buy the records on vinyl even though they maybe have the record digitally already. But it’s great. I’m not hanging sheetrock, so it beats that.
I was reading that interview we did eight years ago and we talked about how it seemed like there are a lot of little clubs that weren’t hanging on so the market was becoming more competitive for the smaller, 90 to 200-capacity clubs, and I thought “boy, if we only knew!”
Yeah! “It’s gonna get a lot worse!” It’s all gonna be LiveNation eventually and all the radio is going to be ClearChannel. But again, music is always going to come from the ground up and the interesting stuff will exist in pockets of isolation and as a reaction to that stuff. It’s not going to stop, it just makes it harder for the average music fan to be exposed to things. It’s like trying to dip a glass in the ocean to get a glass of fresh water, you know? Good luck! It’s just all out there in the thinnest layer of pixels. I mean, I had to search growing up in Mississippi, but I had to search because it literally wasn’t there. Maybe you had a Sam Goody in the mall or some shit, but you’d get subscriptions to the magazines that covered the bands you liked, that sort of thing. I wouldn’t want to be trying to discover new music as a young kid right now. I don’t even know where you’d start, it’s just a bombardment of information.
It’s TikTok, which is weird to say.
Yeah, and it’s sort of a race to the bottom for our attention span. It’s like “look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” And that’s the thing now, people expect you to be an artist, but they also expect you to be a full-time self-promoter. I do the social media things now and then when I want to just put a picture of my kid up now and then or say something stupid on Twitter, but I also don’t want to be promoting myself 24/7. I don’t feel good about that. But I also have a work aesthetic and I have a job, and so I try to balance that with what I’m interested in.
This may be a weird question to ask when the new album isn’t out yet, but as someone who was writing primarily on the road and then had to stop for a couple years, are you looking forward to writing again as well?
Absolutely! Absolutely, yeah. I found that last tour where I wrote a lot, I think that’s a nice balance for me. There are only so many damn audiobooks you can listen to. I’m looking forward to the long drives.
Strung Out is an American punk rock band from Simi Valley, California, formed in 1989. They are known mainly for their musical style, which fuses aspects of melodic punk rock, progressive rock and heavy metal to form their primary sound. They have released nine studio albums on Fat Wreck Chords as well as one Live album, 2 B-sides collections, a best-of, a box set and appeared on numerous compilations and skate/surf/dirt bike/offroading videos.
Voice Of Addiction are politically charged and socially conscious Chicago based punk-rockers. V.o.A. has been around since 2004 doing over 1,500 shows across North America. Having eight official releases and independently selling over 10,000 physical copies (as well as being involved in countless compilations, and digital sales) this lot has proven they are a force to be reckoned with. They have been featured in the video games Skateboard Party 1, 2, & 3 as well as Snowboard Party 1 & 2. A feature length documentary on V.o.A. entitled “Punk Band” is out now on all major outlets. The new full-length “Divided States” is available 8/5/22.