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DS Album Review: Anti-Flag – “Lies They Tell Our Children”

Our favorite Pittsburgh foursome, Anti-Flag, are 13 albums deep into their career that has spanned since the late ’80s. There was a long break and line-up change before they resumed their work in ’92, but they are still angry, and this album shows it. To be clear, Lies They Tell Our Children is Anti-Flags’ first […]

Our favorite Pittsburgh foursome, Anti-Flag, are 13 albums deep into their career that has spanned since the late ’80s. There was a long break and line-up change before they resumed their work in ’92, but they are still angry, and this album shows it. To be clear, Lies They Tell Our Children is Anti-Flags’ first concept album and is a collection of probably their finest and most forward songs since their ’96 debut album. The album is 11 tracks, and seven of them have guest features, from Ashrita Kumar from Pinkshift, Campino from Die Toten Hosen, Tim McIlrath, and Brian Baker from Bad Religion, to name a few. While I usually believed that too many guest features were a red flag, this album shows that if you have an idea, you have a clear message, and people believe in the message you’re trying to bring forth, the number of guest features does not matter.

Let’s rewind to 2020; what the fuck happened? Covid, the world stood still; Anti-Flag released an album like many others. Now let’s fast-forward to 2022: war, impending doom, and most of us have given up hope that the system will ever change. Here’s Anti-Flag with clear, straight-to-the-point messages. There’s no misinterpreting anything with their lyrics on this album. Happy New Year, all; I’ll let Anti-Flags point out what is wrong with the system in 2023. But Lies They Tell Our Children doesn’t hold back on any song, and it’s time to go in for the kill. Anti-Flag has tried to perfect the balance between catchy hooks, headbanging instruments, and meaningful lyrics for the past three decades. I thought 20/20 Vision was a masterpiece, but Lies They Tell Our Children has outdone it. So I’ll get on with my review, and I’ll tell you this: I’m a sucker for any album that takes open digs and trashes the Government in any country.

“Sold Everything is a solid album opener; the song starts slowly with the rhythm guitar taking the lead before Justin Sane jumps in with their much-appreciated political lyrics. “Neo-liberal white saviors, Murdoch and Fox News. Fuck the Pittsburgh police and our president too!” sings Justin Sane, backed by the rest of the band during the song. Next up is “Modern Meta Medicine” ft. Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage taking their dig at Big Pharma, and I would like to say America’s significant consumption of pills and other things. Still, the fact is that it isn’t just a problem in America but everywhere in the world. While “Sold Everything” doesn’t set the tone for the album, this song does. It’s fast-paced with loud drumming and guitars but again highlights the catchy hooks. We’ve all heard this song for some time, so there’s nothing I can say that everyone else hasn’t caught on to. “Laugh. Cry. Smile. Die” ft. Shane Told of Silverstein was the first single to shoot off this album. “The lies we tell our children shaping everything we know/ Turning fact into fiction streamed on every single show” goes well into how the misinformation isn’t anything we can run from. Especially the younger generation has much more access to knowledge than the later generations had while growing up.

I’ll skip a bit because we’ve all heard most of the features, but let’s bring “Shallow Graves” ft. Tré Burt into focus. Now this song is probably one of the biggest standouts, in my opinion, and sad it wasn’t released as a single. This song sounds different, with heavy guitar riffs, rough vocals, and rapid drumming. But it has a more unpolished indie vibe before it goes into the classic Anti-Flag sound throughout the album. “Only In My Head” is another standout track, but this one is without guest features. “They are after me/ But no one’s free,” screams Justin Sane throughout the track, with the rapid machine drumming and simple “oh’s” from the band in between, concluding a great album. Things changed over the years, but Anti-Flag hasn’t that much, and that isn’t bad because this album feels like the beginning of something big to come.

Standouts to listen to: SHALLOW GRAVES, IMPERIALISM, SOLD EVERYTHING and ONLY IN MY HEAD

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DS Album Review: Frenzal Rhomb – “The Cup of Pestilence”

A wise band once said, “All we need is a punch in the face”. That’s exactly what Frenzal Rhomb provides with their latest effort The Cup of Pestilence. Australia’s finest pick up where they left off on Smoko at the Pet Food Factory and Hi Vis High Tea, ripping through 19 songs in 32 minutes. […]

A wise band once said, “All we need is a punch in the face”. That’s exactly what Frenzal Rhomb provides with their latest effort The Cup of Pestilence. Australia’s finest pick up where they left off on Smoko at the Pet Food Factory and Hi Vis High Tea, ripping through 19 songs in 32 minutes. A sonic punch in the face, if you will. The tone is set as the album opens with the lightning fast lead single “Where Drug Dealers Take Their Kids”, which is followed by the somehow even faster “Gone to the Dogs” (honestly, almost every song on this record is fast as fuck, so I’m gonna try to refrain from using that as a descriptor going forward).

“The Wreckage” proves Frenzal Rhomb is the only band that can write a love song with the word “cunt” sprinkled quite liberally throughout its lyrics (upon subsequent listens I’ve determined this is about a bromance, not a love song, but I’m too lazy to rephase this so fuck it). Other tracks like “Dead Man’s Underpants”, “Lil Dead$hit”, “Dog Tranquilizer”, and “I Think My Neighbour is Planning to Kill Me” provide a dose of the absurdist comic relief fans have always been able to expect from Frenzal. “Horse Meat” recounts the tale of a vegan who relapsed and “went from tofu salad straight to horse meat”, while “How to Make Gravox” pays tribute to the band’s favorite canned gravy product. It’s world-shaking stuff, if I’m being honest.

“Fireworks”, “Hospitality and Violence”, and “Finally I Can Get Arrested In This Town” power through the next stanza of The Cup of Pestilence with even more three part vocal harmonies and blues-on-speed guitar leads from The Doctor, backed by rapid fire drumming, courtesy of the fucken Metrognome Gordy Forman. All three songs are about a minute and 30 seconds long; blink and you’ll miss ’em. Most importantly, I believe “Those People” sets a new record for the number of times “cunt” has been used in a Frenzal Rhomb song, but who’s counting? Wait a second, I am! The word “cunt” is uttered approximately 22 times in this song. For comparison’s sake, “World’s Fuckedest Cunt” has a mere 13 cunts; “Cunt Act” closes the gap a bit with 18 cunts.

When it comes to its sonic qualities, The Cup of Pestilence pretty much sounds exactly the same as Frenzal Rhomb’s last two records. The band made the trek overseas to record in the friendly confines of The Blasting Room, where they previously recorded Smoko and Hi Vis, with Bill Stevenson once again handling production. All that’s really changed is they’ve got a new bassist in Michael Dallinger, but he’s been in the band going on four years now (and used to be in an excellent band named after Frenzal’s “Local Resident Failure”). Let me be clear, though: when I say this record sounds the same as the last two, that’s a good thing. Those records kicked ass. Unsurprisingly, this one kicks ass, too.

The one bone I’ll pick with The Cup of Pestilence (and I’m really grasping at the shortest of straws here) is it’s somewhat lacking in variety compared to Hi Vis High Tea. Of course, most of that album was blazing fast skate punk, but songs like “Beer and a Shot”, “The Black Prince”, “Messed Up”, and “Food Court” offered a refreshing change of pace and allowed you to take a breather between headbanging sessions on “Classic Pervert”, “Storage Unit Pill Press”, etc. Outside of “Deathbed Darren” and brief intros on “Old Mate Neck Tattoo” and the album closing “Thought It Was Yoga But It Was Ketamine”, The Cup of Pestilence does not afford you the same luxury. But I’m sure that’s what the people want, and in all likelihood Frenzal Rhomb based their decision to make a purely balls-to-the-wall record on extensive market research. Alas, I was not present at that board meeting.

Well, it’s time to give the album a score. Let’s go with 4 out of 5 Star Emojis ⭐⭐⭐⭐✰ That’s a nice round number, innit?

The Cup of Pestilence arrives April 7th on Fat Wreck Chords. Pre-order the record here (US), here (EU), or here (AUS).

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DS Exclusive: Riverboat Gamblers on the Re-Release of “Something To Crow About,” the Band’s Roots and its Legacy.

The Riverboat Gamblers are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its 2003 Something to Crow About. The band decided it was a good time to reflect on the significance of the record. I asked the below questions of two of The Riverboat Gamblers’ band members, singer Mike Wiebe (MW) and guitar player Ian MacDougall (IM). I also […]

The Riverboat Gamblers are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of its 2003 Something to Crow About.

The band decided it was a good time to reflect on the significance of the record. I asked the below questions of two of The Riverboat Gamblers’ band members, singer Mike Wiebe (MW) and guitar player Ian MacDougall (IM). I also spoke to the pair about how the Riverboat Gamblers came to be and where it is now. Along with Wiebe and MacDougall, the band also includes Fadi El-Assad on lead guitar, Rob Marchant on bass, and Sam Keir on drums.

On Something to Crow About:

(NOTE: The Q&A below has been edited and condensed for content/clarity’s sake.)

MG: How did the decision to re-release the record come about?

IM: “We’ve been wanting to have all of our releases available and we wanted to start with the one that’s been unavailable the longest.

MG: Was it simply a matter of 20 years being a milestone amount of time? 

IM: “This record is really special to all of us and to have it back is awesome. 20 years just happened to be how long it had been when we got it back. It sort of lined up perfectly.”

MG: How long have been planning/working on the re-issue?

 IM: “I had met this great dude John Kastner over the years touring in other bands and he helped facilitate this so we that we could re-release this ourselves and have it distributed properly. Everything has been pretty in house here now which is at the time great.

MG: What went into the decision-making as far as the artwork and presentation of the re-release?

IM:As far as artwork etc. We brought in original bass player Pat Lillard that recorded on this album, to help update some things. We added a quote from producer Tim Kerr and changed some fonts around that had always bugged some of us.

McDougall summed it up with:

We got a great remaster from Jack over at Enormous Door here in Austin. He really woke this thing up and gave it a shower, shave and a hot pot of coffee.


Mike Wiebe (vocals) “Long story short- after Gearhead went under it was tied up for a bit…

MG: Reflecting on the album now, were you aware or did you have a sense of how special it was at the time and how important in might become in the future (and now history) of The Riverboat Gamblers?

MW:I knew we worked really hard on it we were happy with it but no, I didn’t really know how special it was and that it would be such an important factor in our lives 20 years later. I knew people liked it at the time but it’s kind of hard to see or feel that stuff when you have nothing to compare it to. ”

MG: Was it simply a matter of 20 years being a milestone amount of time? 

MW: “In editing the video for “Rattle Me Bones” a few weeks ago and looking at all the old footage of us playing I really started to feel the weight of all of it. I think for the most part I/we are always kind of moving forward and thinking about the next record or the next project and I don’t really take a lot of time to reflect on that stuff. So it was nice to look back and really appreciate how lucky it is to have the experience of a little magical pocket where everything kind of clicked at the same time.”  


On the Past, Present, and Future of The Riverboat Gamblers


MG: How have things changed since you started the band? Have your goals been met and are there new goals?

MW: “I mean it’s you know it’s completely different. I mean we were little babies when we started. I know the band’s over like 25 years old I think. The band can rent a car. You know, the (band) living on its own, can vote and drink and everything.

Honestly my goal is just like I just want to see the band name on a screen-printed poster. I want to have a 7-inch out like that was that was the big goal or whatever.”

MG: What was scene like back when you started?

MW: “So, (back) then you know, we were in Denton, TX. It was really just like playing these house shows mostly, and the scene was really big and booming then. Right when Green Day was like blowing up and Rancid and all these bands. 

My friend calls it the “Gilman Gold Rush.” It was something to sign all these punk bands. It was just this really exciting fun time to be a band in Denton Texas because Denton, this little suburb outside of Dallas where there was like one or two clubs. 

So, there’s all these old houses that everybody lived in kind of, you know, just college kids and we were just throwing these house shows, and it became this really kind of like underground famous place to play a show at the time for touring bands. Touring bands, a lot of times, they would skip Dallas. They would skip a club show in Dallas to play Denton because – especially punk bands would do that – because that was such a popular place. It was just kind of like this known fact that like if you come, you do a show in Denton. A lot of times like this you’re like, you know, a smaller touring punk band. It’s going to be the best show of your whole tour and the word kind of got out.”


MW: “So, between all the houses we were living at, there was there was just plenty of opportunities to play and like kind of cut chops as it were. And so, we were just kind of like playing shows all the time and setting up shows and kind of making connections for when we were going to go out, ultimately later.

I would say, I mean, I would think this started up when I was like 20-ish, you know? Probably 20, like 19, 20… This is, this is before Something to Crow About. But yeah, this is maybe even before the Gamblers, like when the scene was just kind of getting started. But we were all in different bands and you know? Fadi and I were in a band together and then some of the other guys, we all, everybody kind of just started playing in multiple bands. And sometime, you know, over the course of a couple years, we all started Gamblers together.” 


MG: I have always had an interest in the origin of band names. How did you come up with the name The Riverboat Gamblers?

MW: “I don’t remember exactly all except for kind of It was at the time, band names were really, and felt like, you know, our purview that, like a lot of bands were…there’s a lot of very…emo at the same time. The emo movement was like, really kind of up-and-coming. It was kind of like the pre, before emo kind of became what it is like now. Or what it would become. 

But the emo movement was very like pretentious long-winded names, you know? I mean you know you name your band after some obscure French poets. Then there’s like a band called something like – and they might have been great, I don’t mean to disparage them – but their name was Fall into the Seer and the Yellow Leaf, and there was always very like very and on the flipside of that, the pop punk bands would kind of be like The Veronicas! or you know, the Choppy Boys or whatever. And so we were, The Riverboat Gamblers seemed like it stuck out in a weird way. At the time I think we liked it kind of sounded like a little bit more like oh this could be like a country band or like a classic rock band.

Yeah, it kind of fits there. Texas swagger to it which ultimately, it’s fine, but there was a period where it kind of bit us in the ass, because it was like everybody just assumed because we were from Texas and called The Riverboat Gamblers that we were like a stand-up bass rockabilly band. And everywhere we go it would be like ‘what rockabilly band in town are you going to play with?’ Rockabilly can be great and all, but at some point it was it was like…it was a little bit of effort in like no, that’s not, you know, that’s not what we want to do. We’re not in that world you know, and that was what it felt like and can’t accept it, that people the world kept trying to put us into that universe and was a little bit of effort to not stay in there. 

But there was a lot of that in the Dallas area. There was at that time, especially.

IM: Yeah, Dallas had the Rockabilly thing. I feel like Dallas has like a huge skinhead thing too here as well but…Because there’s also less of a line between. But it was. It was. I remember being a kid and being freaked out going out to shows for sure for a while there. It was kind of a mix. I feel like there was. I feel like with any of that stuff, there’s always going to be some sort of, you know, people coming out of the woodwork. 


MG: Ian how did you get involved with the Gamblers?

IM: “I met the guys when I was probably like, the guys in Gamblers. I met them when I was probably about 15 and I caught the tail end of what Mike was talking about. Like the house shows, and the Gamblers were already a band. They were kind of playing around and yeah, I would go and see them. And then eventually, like, go up to them and I met all the guys. There was a record store across the street from my school [in Carrolton, TX, where MacDougall lived at the time] called CD Addict. And I’d go there after school and I bought a Buzzcocks record from, you know, it’s just like, oh, I’ve always wanted to check this out and I bought a Buzzcocks record and the guy behind the counter was like, oh man, well if you like this, you might really love my brother’s band. And that band was The Marked Men. And it was Jeff Burke’s brother. [Jeff Burke plays bass player for The Marked Men. His brother, Mark Burke, opened CD Addict in Carrollton, and now owns Mad World Record Shop in Denton] And so, I came back, and I was like, I love this. He was like, well, they’re actually playing this weekend. He gave me a flyer and I got my buddy to give me a ride and we both went up to the show and saw The Marked Men. And I don’t remember who else was on the show. It might have been The Marked Men and The Dirty Sweets.

For me, when I was a kid going there like Mike, I had a little bit different of an experience with it because I didn’t live there and so I would come up. [Carrolton is just under 25 miles southeast of Denton] I mean, I spent like all of my time up here though and it was really cool to come up. And we had a really cool little group. I would come up whenever I got out of school, and everybody else is still working jobs or not working, and we would just all hang out at somebody’s house and then there would be a show there or something like that at night. And because it was a college town, every house would be having some party or something and so we would just like walk around and go in just like party hop and then eventually go to some show and then you end up back in somebody’s house staying the night or hanging out staying up listening to records and stuff.”


MG: Mike, what was Ian like, with him being much younger? Do you recall what you thought of the kid at time?

MB: “I was 10 years, yeah, about 10 years older. You could say who you know who you are. Again, kind of game meet game as far as like somebody that’s into the same type of music. It’s still, you know, even though that was defined as a cool Bohemian (place), Denton it wasn’t like this is the sort of specific style of punk music style of. Punk music and stuff that we were into was a little bit more obscure. So, you know, Ian kind of came in and like kind of had the same background of genres of rock and roll and punk music and stuff like that. So, it was really easy. Old soul too. And I’m very immature. So it was easy to kind of meet there and then when we recorded Something To Crow About and he didn’t play on that but right after, right after we recorded it, we started touring a whole bunch. He hopped in the van with us and our guitar player couldn’t do it because it was looking like an extensive amount of touring, and it was more than he could do for work and stuff. That’s when the band kind of went from being a weekend warrior band to kind of like a full-time deal. Ian was just graduating high school.


MG: Ian, what was it like to tour so young, and being too young for some of the venues?

IM: “That was around was in the mid -90s. Around the first tour that I did with Gamblers, you know I was pretty young. I wasn’t 21. We toured with this band Burning Brides for the first tour that we did together and Burning Brides they had that advance money where they got money. We were still in the van and trailer but they had a bus on this tour. And so, there were a lot of shows where I couldn’t go in. I could go in and do sound checks, play the show, but I couldn’t hang out. And so they would let me come and hang out on the bus. I just watched TV in the back with Dimitri [Coats] the singer in Burning Brides. It was, you know, just hanging out.


MG: So now you both are in the band. How long before you starting hitting the goals, like you had the 7 inch and next…

MW: “It felt pretty natural, but there was definitely some huge buzz surrounding Something To Crow About. We toured and toured on that record for a long time and shortly thereafter it was time for the next record. And so around then it’s when things really started changing because, you know, we wanted to do something bigger scope and to get out there. I don’t know, there were demos that were floating around that we had done and then there were, you know, we started working on songs and so we actually were talking about working with all these different producers and labels and you know, the people that really came out and really went above and beyond to show us that they cared were Volcom. Volcom Entertainment. They had a really great team of people, and you know we were kind of like gonna be their first dance. They were kind of basically treating us like it was going to be their first real big like “we’re going to go all in on this” (thing).

And that’s really where it started to feel like things were changing because all of a sudden we’re living in an apartment at the Oakwoods (Apartments in Los Angeles), which like actors and other bands and were there for like a month and we have an allowance and where So, all of a sudden we’re in LA for like, you know, for a month or more. I feel like it feels like so long that we were out there, but we all lived in an apartment together and we were out there, you know. It wasn’t uncommon. This was, like, a super common thing for bands to go out there and live at this giant apartment complex, that was for like entertainment industry folks. So, there was a lot of actors there. Here was I remember like being in a swimming pool with Pat, our old bass player and like all the kids from Malcolm (In The Middle) on the grounds.

IM: “Like that, like sort of that thing where, yeah, like we go to the gym and there would be like Garrett Morris from Saturday Night Live. It’s crazy, but around then you know, and then afterwards, we were working on a record with this guy Andrew Murdock. Same things, as he went above and beyond to really prove that he wanted to do this record and because of that, we knew that we wanted to spend more time on Confusion. You know this is my first experience. I had recorded stuff in the past, (but this was) my first experience like, you know, working with the guys and Gamblers in the studio and it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun working on that record.

MW: “During that was that was that during a time it was a cool experience. Not that I thought like oh it’s going to be like this every time. I think I knew it was kind of special but now in retrospect like wow what a unique experience.” 

IM: “Cool, weird, lucky thing that we got to do that. A lot of bands maybe don’t get to do that. And you know, we didn’t really get to do it yet. But it was, yeah, it was what years were those? That’s when there was still money in the music industry. Remember that one, 2005 maybe? [Mike adds: “yeah something like that “].”

MG: When did you notice the crowds getting bigger. When the floors where you were earlier on the bill were filling up? Was out slow or all of a sudden?

IM: “It was at around the time that we started this touring constantly and there was headlining stuff, and also a lot of like support act stuff. But for big bands, where we were actually playing, we went from playing little clubs to getting to open up for bigger bands in really big rooms. And noticing the people were staying for the early acts and I think that was just like from touring.”

MW: “It took a really long time to get to get used to that. I think maybe it was everybody else acquiesced easier. But for me, it took a long time to get used to, like figuring out the animal of those big stages far away from the crowd. There’s like less people to try and figure out how to translate that. To do what we had been doing, what I had been doing in those little clubs, and to try and translate that to giant things. Well, it was slow. Like you notice here and there in some towns, I mean there’d be little pockets of like ohh wow we just kind of leveled up in this one area.

For us was really slow. We never really had an overnight kind of thing you know and never any like real…umm… navigating all of it was pretty confusing and weird and still is just the business side of music. The business part is something we’re still kind of, you know…I mean I think we’re more aware of it now but now of course it’s changed so much but back then it was, like, confusing. Really confusing.

MG: How soon did you get out of Texas and start doing national tours, criss-crossing the country?

IM: “That was like immediately. I mean like the first tour that I did with Gamblers like we, it was a full U.S. tour and all of these things that we did when they were all like we would go out like everywhere. And that’s one thing. It’s like getting out of Texas. I remember that always being like, oh, we got to start this tour in New York. So, we would drive 24 hours from Austin or Denton and go straight to go and meet some tour out in like. New York or like Morongo, California…that’s where we started the X and Rollins tour. And these things would go all over the place  We would go all over the place and then we’d hop over to Europe and play everywhere you possibly could over there too.

MG: What was the first huge tour and was there any nervousness or sense of starstruckness?

IM: “I think you know like we the the one of the like one of the bigger ones that we went on early on like we toured with Flogging Molly and that was like that was a pretty big one…but there was no like starstruckness with that. I think when we had when we toured with X and the Rollins Band. That was when it was like, like, holy shit, there’s that dude from Black Flag. And then that’s X Oh my God. 

And then it was cool to the eventually like befriend these people. Like, I remember an experience in DC and being at the 9:30 Club and sitting there and talking with Ian McKaye and Henry Rollins, like about about Eater. You know, this old 70s punk band. I was wearing an Eater T-shirt and they were like, “Can you believe that there’s kids wearing an Eater T-shirt?” We were talking about that. And I was like, Oh my God, this is so crazy. I got pictures from that still from that night and I look like I’m a child. And then we toured with Joan Jett and that was another very like, wow.

MG: And were they all pretty cool with you?

IM: “Yeah, everybody, we got along with pretty much everybody we’ve toured with. Yeah, yeah, for the most part. That’s the cool thing with this band and its experiences. Not only are you meeting all of these band people, but you’re meeting the crew as well that worked for these folks. And like the world is so, so small, you know. Because I mean, like eventually, I started working in in crew stuff, doing tour management stuff. And you know, lifer types, you’re going to run into these people like 10 years from now. And it’s been pretty neat because it’s all been from, you know, our time with Gamblers. And I’ve worked with some of these crew members that we met in the early days when I was a teenager and, you know, worked with them like, you know, 10 or 15 years later.

MG: Looking back have your views on the scene changed? Are you still as eager?

MW: “Yeah, well, I mean like I think for me it’s, you know, getting older and still doing it and still feeling like there is no room and stuff to say. And the goals are a lot different, like all that hype and stuff is not…you know we’re not young anymore. So, the only reason to keep doing it, not that we were doing it for any other reason before, but the only reason to do it really when you’re older is because you still really love it, and it’s you like creating music and performing it and stuff like that.

I mean, you know, it’s less about like, well let’s get out there and conquer the world, touring and stuff. It’s more like let’s keep it real pure, like let’s just make some cool shit because there’s not any pressure of like being super, super full-time with it in that way. There’s not any you know…we’re kind of on our own right now. There’s just not that like vice-like pressure of like, well, we gotta tour six months out of the year and we have to, you know, fulfill this record, by this date, by this time for these people. It’s more just like, no, we wanna do it. So, no time limit. It’s just, it’s just for the for the love of the game.

IM: As we got older, people go off and do other things and start families, but we’ve always been writing music together. We had all this time, like our last record came out in 2012. And I mean, we have songs from back then that didn’t get released, that only for the sheer fact that they didn’t really fit kind of the vibe of the record. It wasn’t like they were kind of throwaway things.

So, we’re kind of revisiting a lot of stuff and we’re also. I mean Mike and I and Fadi and Rob, you know, like we constantly have these ideas that we’re in little song demos and stuff that we’re shooting each other. It’s a cool thing.

Everyone’s like, you know, the guys with kids, the kids are old enough now that that, you know, they can kind of get away for a little bit to hop in the studio and knock out some stuff or we can go and do these weekends. And so right now it’s sort of like, you know, picking up the pieces a lot. For things, you know, because all of our labels that we had releases on, they’ve all dissolved.

So going back and getting these records back available for everybody that want them and making sure that you know…like Something To Crow About was out of print for, you know, over 15, close to 20 years. And you know, it’s kind of like a shame that nobody could buy it at the merch table, because it’s still like 80% of our set are those songs.

And so we got that back together and we’re going to rerelease Confusion as well, or repress it. And we’re also just like we did a 7-inch last year. Over this last year for the songs, one of them is super old, but you know, nobody heard it, so it’s brand new. There’s that new generation and hopefully you know hopefully also reading Dying Scene will help our little tiny bit but just getting out there and yeah word of mouth.

MW: You know, like what is? I’m just excited to make new stuff. You know it’s always…this band has been around for so long and there’s like a core of what we are, what we keep. We’ve always kind of evolved and tried to do a little bit different stuff and you know now being so old and like it’s kind of like I said like I feel this real…there’s no… I don’t really feel a lot of pressure that I might have even like 10 years ago of what a record should or shouldn’t be. Like I have in my head some stuff that I want, some parameters that I think that we should kind of be, that the Riverboat Gamblers are in my opinion. But it’s still it’s still really open and it’s really like the thought not that we were ever like, you know, overthinking like well what what are people going to like? But now the thought doesn’t really necessarily cross my mind so much. It’s more just like, man, let’s just get in there and make some cool stuff and that feels pretty good.”

MG: Mike, I was incredibly impressed with your energy level at the show at Reggies [late 2022). Are you finding more aches after a show and are you more careful now about that type of thing?

MW: “I find aches and I’m 48 and I find aches without playing a show. Like, I’m definitely stretching. I’m stretching as we’re talking right now because I’m about to go into the studio and just knowing that I’m going to be on my feet for a long time, I’m making sure I get my stretches in.  

I’m just a little bit more careful. I think, when the mood strikes me, I’ll do whatever I feel like. here’s a little bit more like, let me look and see where I’m going to fall. Well, there’s a little voice in my head that says, like, how we can’t recover like we used to. Yeah, you know, the Wolverine’s healing factor. And now? Not so much.


The Riverboat Gamblers recently announced its Inaugural “AC Hell Festival” set for October 14, 2023. The band will be playing Something to Crow About in its entirety. The bill also features, amongst others, The Starving Wolves, The Get Lows and User Uauthorized. Further information on the event and tickets can be found here.

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DS Exclusive: The Subjunctives debut brand-new video, “Thanks For Driving Me Home, Old Friend” from upcoming album, “Let’s Try This Again”

Hear ye, hear ye! Beloved Seattle punks The Subjunctives have got a brand new album due out later this month. It’s called Let’s Try This Again, and it’s being released by Top Drawer Records on September 15th. In order to get you fired up for the release – as though you weren’t already – we […]

Hear ye, hear ye! Beloved Seattle punks The Subjunctives have got a brand new album due out later this month. It’s called Let’s Try This Again, and it’s being released by Top Drawer Records on September 15th.

In order to get you fired up for the release – as though you weren’t already – we get to debut a pretty kick-ass video for the track “Thanks For Driving Me Home, Old Friend.” The clip is hot off the presses – so hot that we’re like 99% sure it’s done, but you’ll have to watch it all to see for yourself! That’s showbiz, baby!

You’ve still got time to pre-order Let’s Try This Again on vinyl – do it…it’s pink! And now, enjoy “Thanks For Driving Me Home, Old Friend”!

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DS Interview: 75% of the Brokedowns on their Highly Anticipated 6th Full-Length, due out Jan. 20th on Red Scare

Sometimes referred to as Chicago’s best kept secret and other times called the funniest band on Red Scare, for all of us not currently living in Chicago, we know them simply as The Brokedowns. After officially closing the book on 2022 on a high note with a live show during the late hours of December […]

Sometimes referred to as Chicago’s best kept secret and other times called the funniest band on Red Scare, for all of us not currently living in Chicago, we know them simply as The Brokedowns. After officially closing the book on 2022 on a high note with a live show during the late hours of December 31, they claimed the honor of the last band of 2022 at Reggie’s Rock Club and rang in the New Year in style. Their 2023 is started off on an even higher note, however, with the release of the quartet’s 6th studio album titled “Maximum Khaki”, the band’s fourth release on Chicago label Red Scare.

Out of the gates, the group’s first single “Obey the Fumes” damn near knocks your fuckin’ teeth in. Lead guitarist Kris Megyery kicks the song off with a killer, in-your-face opening riff that sets an excellent tone for the next thirteen tracks of this quick, humorous, thought-provoking punk masterpiece.

In my opinion, this record is what a punk record should be. The songs are fast, both in tempo and duration, with only one track breaking the three-minute threshold (and even that comes in at an even three minutes). The release comes equipped with intriguing, chuckle-inducing song titles that, upon questioning with the band, have both deep and sincere subject matters. After listening from beginning to end and finding myself starting over, I fully understand the pride that these guys hold in their finished product.

“There’s nothing I really regret on [the record],” said Megyery. “At this point I’m usually like ‘Fuck it’s coming out in a few days, this sucks.’ But not with this one, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Keep scrolling for all kinds of cool stuff: music videos for “Obey the Fumes” (which coincidentally was done over a Zoom call as well) and “Samurai Sword Decontrol”, info for their record release show January 28th at the Burlington in Chicago, and the full Q&A with Eric, Kris and Mustafa. Cheers!

Header Photo by Meredith Goldberg

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

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): So first off, congrats on the new record. I know it’s not technically out yet as of this intervew, but I’ve listened to it several times and I love it guys. How long has this been in the works, I know your last release 2018?

Kris Megyery (KM): Yeah I think we started recording in February but we did the bass tracking March 7th 2020. So pretty much we started recording right before the pandemic and then we finished it up like last summer.

So you started recording back in 2020, but are these songs a lot older than that?

Mustafa Daka (MD): I remember, Kris, we recorded for like a split or something and you were like hey while we are at it, let’s just like demo all these songs you had just shown us, so like there’s a kind of a real rough recording of all those songs like a year earlier so like 2019?

KM: Right yeah it was that Copyrights cover song for the Red Scare comp. And my idea was to try to record a whole album that we’ve never practiced once and I thought it would go awesome *laughs*. And we did, we recorded that Copyrights song and then we just like live recorded the whole album and I remember during the session being like ‘holy shit this is gonna work’, like we just did the whole album in like a couple hours. And then we got home and listened to it and we were like ‘oh this is a turkey’. *laughs* So we went back like a year later to perfect them.

So I always like to ask this with new releases, did you just kind of collect these songs over time after your last release or was it like ‘alright let’s write another record’ and you just sat down wrote songs and recorded?

KM: Yeah the way we operate as a band for at least the last 10 years since I’ve had kids is pretty much just like whoever writes a song, like me or John, we make demos with the song and then everyone kind of learns it from the demo, like we don’t “get in the lab” *laughs* or spend tons of time. Like this shit all goes really fast because it has to. So it wasn’t over time and we never do that over time. Usually like we don’t even think about recording anything until we have a chunk of songs. There’s never like we’re just knocking around one song like normal bands do. Normal bands are like ‘hey let’s work on this one song and it slowly grows’, where us it’s like we binge it all man*laughs*.

MD: I will say, it’s been funny that Kris, since you’ve had kids, you are real quick to just hit us with like a bunch of demos and some of it’s like a Casio drum kit and everything or sometimes it’s just like the drums that he’s got laying around that he micd up. But you’ll hear his kids all over it, so I think it’s awesome. Where you have kids that might kind of get in the way of your being able to write and record demos, Kris kind of just combines those two times together so it’s like ‘well I’m gonna hang out with these kids, they may as well get involved’ *laughs*.

KM: Where a normal person would be parenting, I’m demoing *laughs*.  

So does this record kind of have a theme, I know like with your last release you tackle like some of the thrills of living in the Midwest. Does this have any kind of main theme or does each song kind of have a different theme?

KM: Well a lot of our songs are like political in nature I guess. The last one was actually a lot more personal songs about like growing up and shit, and a lot of like bummer songs. The year we wrote that album like we had a bunch of people close to us die in like one short period of time, so that’s a bummer record for me. But this one is definitely more about just the cultural nightmare we’re all going through, living in our country and you know all that stuff, all that groovy shit.

Where’s the name of the record come from, Maximum Khaki?

KM: So the word khaki, I kept using as this like reference to just like the banality of evil, like bland evil, not referencing like the soldiers, but referencing the accountants who are making the atrocities happen. And when I would write a song I would have the word khaki written in there. It probably started from that Charlottesville rally you know where everyone was wearing khakis, probably stemmed from that. I think John brought it up, he’s like ‘there are like 6 songs where you mentioned khaki’. So khaki was used as a reference to just like bland cruelty. And we were going to call the record “Khaki Majesty” and right before we started making artwork for it the Slow Death from Minneapolis who we’re friends with announced their new album “Casual Majesty”.

MD: I think I told those dudes, I was like ‘you know we’ve got an album coming out called “khaki majesty”, but yeah not anymore’.

KM: I didn’t blame them or anything, but they definitely heard from our attorneys *laughs*.

MD: Yeah I don’t talk to those guys anymore *laughs*.

I know your artwork for the album always comes into question, what drew you to Ryan Duggan for this record cover?

KM: We love him. He did the album “Species Bender” and we love that record cover of ours. And we’ve always loved everything he does and he does with his artwork what I think we’re trying to do as a band, which is like be funny but not be overtly funny; be kind of very subtly funny. And he probably doesn’t want to be connected to us that way *laughs* But it just always makes me smile, always makes me giggle and always makes me think in a nonlinear way, so kind of a no brainer [to go with him]. He’s always been like doing posters and stuff like that around Chicago, and in the last 10-15 years he’s really developed a reputation. He’s got a really unique style.

So starting with “Obey the Fumes” that’s a kickass opener, that’s an awesome opener you guys put out. Walk me through kind of the meaning behind that because I know you said it was about breaking bad habits in one of the press releases, but can you dive in a little bit deeper maybe?

KM: Yeah, initially, like in my head what I see is like an 80s beer commercial where you’re working in a factory, you wipe your brow, you crack open a cool Coors. But in our like dystopian hellscape that we live in, it’s like glue. So you go to your job, and in this case the protagonist of this song goes to a job where he gets skull-fucked by demons every day, and he just wants to crack open a nice thing of glue and fuckin’ cut loose. But that’s the funny version, but it’s like about trying to break bad habits, specifically drinking, like negative drinking habits in a culture where it’s everywhere.

That was actually one of my favorite tracks off the record, do each of you guys have any favorites you’re excited for people to hear once it’s released on Friday?

MD: I love our samurai sword song, that’s probably one of my favorites and I think is the only song that I used to click track on for that whole album.

Eric Grossman (EG): I like that song yeah. “Cinnamon Kings” is probably a highlight for me.

KM: Yeah that song “Cinnamon King” is like our favorite probably. It’s only like 15 seconds long, but so much fun to play. Been playing it live for like three years, we love that one. I like it all, I think it all kind of moves really fast, it’s super short, it’s like our shortest record. It moves along pretty quick, there’s nothing I really regret on it and at this point I’m usually like ‘Fuck it’s coming out in a few days, this sucks’. But not with this one, that’s a good feeling to have.

Yeah I know guys that regret releases they put out because they do it in such a short amount of time, so I mean that’s a good feeling to have.

KM: I wanna warn the listeners, I may be wrong. You might hate this *laughs*, don’t take my word for it, I’m too closely attached to it to have a unbiased opinion.

So I gotta ask you then, some of these other titles are very intriguing. “Honk if You’re Horny” *laughs*?

KM: *laughs* Yeah real subtle.

Tell me about “Osama Van Halen.”

MD: It sounds funny to hear.

KM: It’s a real bummer, but it’s funny. But I was thinking about just like how you know Eddie Van Halen was an innovator, in a very creative way, but like Osama Bin Laden was also an innovator you know what I mean *laughs*, just in a different way. So like the chorus is about like a 4 minute mile because it took forever for people to run it, but once people ran a 4 minute mile like everybody was doing it. So once Eddie Van Halen fuckin’ busted out a power drill every jack off with a power drill could do that. But once someone does whatever fuckin’ atrocities in the newspaper every week, once you see that it makes it that much easier for the next dildo to do that.

That’s actually really cool, I wasn’t sure which direction you were gonna go with that *laughs*. So this is your 4th release over at Red Scare, I take it you’ve had a pretty good experience over there with Toby?

KM: Definitely yeah! Yeah he’s great.

MD: He sends me hoodies and shirts sometimes, and pens, it’s awesome.

EG: Lots of swag. Moose has to pay for them but he gets them *laughs*. When Moose orders it, he gets it.

MD: Sometimes I get $0.69 off and sometimes I get $4.20 off *laughs*.

So from what I’ve seen, the Chicago and Chicago suburbs, the whole scene is flourishing, makes me jealous down here because it just seems like you guys have stuff going on every night. What are some local bands that you guys want to name drop as influences or just bands you’re into?

MD: Wig, I love Wig. I love Permanent Residue, they’re fantastic. Salvation, of course Meat Wave is one of my favorite all time bands. Lollygagger‘s a great band, shit I could keep going. Oh, Avantist.

KM: I’m listening to that Stress Positions EP over and over again for the last couple weeks that’s fuckin’ kicking my head in. Obviously Meat Wave, all the bands Moose said, Wig. Yeah there’s a lot of good shit, there’s always good shit it’s the third largest city in America. Where are you at?

I’m down in Nashville.

KM: Oh yeah that’s not a place known for music *laughs*.

Speaking of locals, Deanna Belos, in “Corndog Sonnet” she named you guys. So when are you guys gonna the line “listen to Sincere Engineer” in one of your songs *laughs*.
MD: I don’t write lyrics

KM: It’s hard to work that in, I’ll figure it out. It’s a little lengthy. It’ll probably be in a super offensive song title, she’ll be like ‘hey thanks but no thanks’ *laughs*.

What about outside of Chicago, what kind of influences do you guys have?

KM: Well the obvious answer, everyone compares us to, collectively we all love Dillinger 4. That was like a huge influence for us. Fugazi’s like my favorite band of all time, that’s creeps in there a lot you know.

MD: Toys That Kill

That’s actually the one that you guys reminded me of on this last record, it’s actually in my notes for the interview *laughs*.

MD: I will absolutely rip off Toys That Kill. Jimmy will send me a text message for like whatever we put out and be like ‘oh I heard it’s great’ and I’ll be like ‘listen to this song, that’s the song I totally ripped you off’ *laughs*. I always am like thinking of Toys That Kill whenever I’m playing somehow, I just love love love those guys and I love their drums.

So your album release is on the 28th, where are you guys playing that?

EG: That’s at the Burlington, which is also pretty close to Moose.

MD: I like it because it’s pretty close to the practice spot so it’s like you just gotta pick up the gear, drive just a few blocks and go right back.

KM: Moose’s love for venues are all based on geography *laughs*.

You’re playing with Chinese Telephones, Dangerous Chairs and Permanent Residue, have you guys played with all those guys before?

KM: Chinese Telephones we haven’t played with in at least 10-12 years. And the other two bands we’ve never played with, but we’re friends with all of them. We wanted to play with bands we haven’t played with in at least a decade or never, but they’re all great super great and I’m super excited for all of them. I love them all.

What about your guy’s strict touring schedule? In one of your interviews you said out of town shows 3 a year, do you have those three out of town dates booked up yet or what’s the plan?

KM: There’s a bidding war going on, it’s like when a city hosts the Olympics because when we come to a town it brings a lot to the local economy *laughs*, the dispensaries.

MD: No we haven’t booked anything yet out of town, but we’re gonna definitely play a lot more this year hopefully. We might do as many as four shows out of town *laughs*.

EG: Yeah maybe. We’re talking about maybe.

So when did you guys form, I’ve seen a few different dates, but I’ve come up with 2002?

EG: What you define as the band as it is today was 2002 yeah. John and I have been playing together for a really long time, way before that probably ‘96 or ’97, somewhere around there. I mean we weren’t really serious about it and the band that you see today was 2002. I think that was when we first played with you Moose, right?

MD: Right, I used to watch you guys from like ‘96 and then in 2002 is when I joined the band, holy shit *laughs*.

KM: Yeah we should have changed our name when Moose joined because I feel like it all became kind of different.

MD: But I saw the first Brokedowns show, I wasn’t in the band but I think John was fourteen I was 18

EG: Yeah I think I had just joined the band at that point. I don’t know if I even played that one maybe I wasn’t in yet.

KM: But John was like a fuckin’ 7th grader *laughs*.

MD: I have a DVD that my friend’s uncle sent me and it has the Brokedowns playing like before you and I were in the band Kris. I think it was Taylors last show in the band. Kris and I weren’t even in the band at the time, Eric was but …

KM: Today those are referred to as the who gives a shit years *laughs*.

I’ve talked to a lot of guys who have either quit music or stopped for an extended period of time after doing it for so long, and I mean you guys have been at this for a while and I mean, based on the new record, it doesn’t seem like you guys are slowing down. What’s kept you guys going?

KM: We’re all very close friends and we don’t do much and even when like we were young, the band was never like the top priority. And because it’s never been the top priority, we’ve never had to like really sacrifice. It’s created a very low pressure situation you know.

MD: I always said it was like fishing buddies, but we play music together instead. It’s like when we lived together, sometimes our Fridays are Saturdays would be just going into like Kris’s garage or whatever and just playing for hours, get drunk in the process and sweat it out right.

KM: It’s just as simple as like if someone doesn’t want to do something, we don’t do it. And then the three people that did wanna do it just quietly resent them behind their back *laughs* and we vent to each other about how terrible that person.

MD: It’s always Kris, we always hate Kris.

KM: That’s funny because I always hate you *laughs*.

MD: Oh shit that’s so funny because I hate you even *laughs*.

KM: Honestly though, 21 years, like the band is old enough to legally drink now and I can’t think of an actual fight, like a single one.

EG: I don’t think so, no.

MD: Maybe something I did, probably. If we fought, it had to have been about something I wanted to do or didn’t wanna do.

KM: I love that false modesty there *laughs*.

So you guys have been referred to as the funniest guys on red scare, who’s second, who’s coming for your title right now? I saw Sam Russo a few months ago and that dude was pretty funny.

KM: Wow. We would never say we’re the funniest. Brendan Kelly is obviously insanely funny. The Copyrights are really funny, they’re super funny.

MD: Like personally those guys are funny as hell.

KM: They refer to movies as Kilmers and books as Grishams; every book’s a Grisham and every movie’s a Kilmer, that’s a good bit *laughs*. I love that bit.

Okay, last question here. I know the record’s not even out yet, but do you guys have any other upcoming plans far future maybe? I know you’re kind of known for doing splits, do you have any of those planned for the coming future?

EG: Not really, we don’t have anything planned. Got a bunch of stuff demoed.

MD: I was gonna say Kris already sent us demos for whatever we’re gonna do next, it’s probably gonna be a split.

Any bands that come to mind for doing splits?

KM: We were supposed to do one with Canadian Rifle actually, so probably them. But they recorded their songs and we never recorded ours *laughs*. So we blew that one. But there was a pandemic, in case you didn’t notice *laughs*.

Well that about wraps everything up, I really appreciate you guys taking some time and sitting down with me. Once again, congrats on the new record and good luck with the album release on the 28th.

 

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DS Interview: Adrienne Rae Ash of Plasma Canvas on ‘Dusk’, The Band’s New Full-Length Out Today on SideOneDummy

Dark subject matter is no new theme to Fort Collins punk rock band Plasma Canvas, and it’s one of several components that drew me their way following KILLERMAJESTIC‘s 2020 release, their debut on SideOneDummy. The duo-turned-quartet captured this essence even more so with their upcoming full-length Dusk, which hits the streets today also via SideOneDummy. […]

Dark subject matter is no new theme to Fort Collins punk rock band Plasma Canvas, and it’s one of several components that drew me their way following KILLERMAJESTIC‘s 2020 release, their debut on SideOneDummy. The duo-turned-quartet captured this essence even more so with their upcoming full-length Dusk, which hits the streets today also via SideOneDummy. The opening track titled “Hymn” serves as a soft, yet triumphant prelude to a kick-ass, emotionally gripping record that already holds a firm spot towards the top of my end-of-the-year Top 10 Records of the Year list.

What immediately stood out to me about this release was how well-crafted it was. It has a fluidity that I have trouble finding comparisons to and each track compels you to check out the next. As we discuss more in-depth during our chat, vocalist/guitarist and band founder Adrienne Rae Ash describes a cyclical record as almost being the end goal, something that, in my opinion, was very much achieved with this release. Although some tracks do slow down in tempo, this record has no soft spots and I’m confident this will rank well on other Best Records of the Year as well.

What also caught my attention was the tendency away from what I became familiar with as the ‘Plasma Canvas sound’. Although this release still encompasses everything an early PC fan could want, songs such as the opener “Hymn” and eighth track “Dusk” (clocking in at close to 9 minutes) are unlike anything previously released by the group, but in all the best ways. In what can be at least partially attributed to the band’s shift from a two-piece to a four-piece, they hit the nail on the head with every fuckin’ track on this thing.

I had the great pleasure of sitting down (over zoom) with Adrienne Rae Ash, the mastermind behind Plasma Canvas. We covered all kinds of great stuff including the impact COVID had on the writing of Dusk, how things have been taking the DIY route to booking shows, and what it’s like playing with Miles Stevenson, son of Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson, plus a whole lot more. Keep scrolling for their upcoming dates and where to pick up the new release. As always, thanks for checking out the site. Cheers!

Shows:

2/17/23 – 7th Circle – Denver, CO – w/ Cheap Perfume, SPELLS, Wiff
2/18/23 – Vultures – CO Springs, CO – w/ Cheap Perfume, SPELLS, Bad Year
3/4/23 – Aggie Theatre – Fort Collins, CO – w/ Attack On Venus, Caustic Soda, Spliff Tank

Tickets!!!

Order the new record here!!!

Top left header photo by AnarchoPunk.

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

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): Hey Adrienne, how are you doing?

Adrienne Rae Ash: I’m great man! This is really cool, I wanted to say thanks for wanting to do this. I’m trying to let everybody know about the record and it’s cool that you were interested to talk about it.

Yeah absolutely. Congrats, by the way, this is such a good record. I’m just gonna go ahead and say, I know it’s early in the year, but when we do like our top ten records of the year for Dying Scene, this is going to be on mine. This thing flows so well from beginning to end, you start out with kind of a soft hymn, I mean that’s the name of the song, but you start off soft and then end that song and you get right into it. And you don’t slow down until track nine I think, then you get back into it again. I mean this is just such an unbelievable record, I’m very excited for it to be released. So did you plan that out at all with how it flowed, starting out soft and then kind of hitting hard and then ending soft; was that something you sought out to do?

Yeah, kind of. I sought to make it kind of cyclical, but also you know in general, it’s always been something I do, that sequence is always there whenever I’m writing the songs. Whenever I have new ideas, even when they’re still in like their infancy, I can kind of tell where they would fit next to each other or if they would at all. I’m always conscious of that and you know some of my favorite records are those records that kind of just guide you, they feel like you’re in a specific place that you go to when you listen to this record. Just the way that it ties together and the way the songs work together is just something that I’ve always found to be another opportunity to create something really cool. Specifically with this record and with our EP KILLERMAJESTIC I did the same thing, I was conscious of you know I wanted to start really heavy and then get tender toward the end. I wanted to just leave a mark and make something that I could be proud of whenever I’m older, I wanted to make something timeless and that’s sort of what I set out to do by just like choosing what I felt was the most important thing to leave. I’m not one of those artists that writes like 20 or 30 songs and then just chops out the ones I don’t like, I don’t really like to continue writing a song if I’m not 100% in love with it. The sequencing is definitely a big part of that.

Yeah that’s something that really stuck out to me, it fits so well together and flows so smoothly. So what are some of your favorite tracks off of this that you’re excited for people to hear?

Well first, as you were mentioning the flow of it, I think a lot of credit has to go to the Blasting Room, just the way that they drew all the sound together. Andrew Berlin and Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, they just drew the best out of it and they made it all work together in sequence and it was awesome. So to add to that, the songs that I can’t wait for people to hear, it’s hard to choose because there’s a lot of entry points and it’s the entry point that you have to a record that almost kind of colors how you see. With our previous EP, if you got introduced with the very first track it’s like ‘Okay, this is like the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard, why does everything else sound like a little wimpy in comparison’. But if you maybe heard “Saturn” first you’d be like dang the band that made this song that kind of sounds like “Basket Case” also did this like super sludgy weird thing that’s kind of different. So right now there are three singles that I’m really stoked on. The first one we put out was “Blistered World” and then we put out “Need” and then “Election Year Relapse.” Of those three, it’s hard to choose a favorite because they’re all about different things, but they’re all kind of very strong emotions. I guess my favorite one that we’ve had come out and I’m glad that it’s starting to do really well, you know 105.5 the Colorado Sound has been playing it on the radio, “Need.” I really like “Need” a lot and it’s like a 6-minute song, I think there’s a lot of really cool, accessible stuff that’s going on there. But also like I wrote it in May of 2020 and so it’s good to see this song do well that I wrote about how much I’ve missed the feeling of being at a show, the community you end up creating, playing those shows and the friends that you have. Like having the absence of all of that and really just feeling how much that hurt you, that’s what went into that song and to see that song being released and people hearing it and it resonating with people and playing it live is awesome. I’m just really excited to play that one to as many people as possible because it was about like that exact feeling, like I cannot believe that I’m lucky enough to be here and do this.

Yeah that leads pretty well into what I wanted to talk about next. So KILLERMAJESTIC was released during COVID, what are some of the main differences you see from releasing this in a time when everything with COVID has kind of settled down versus releasing right in the heat of the shutdown?

Releasing KILLERMAJESTIC, it was one of the worst times of our lives and I hate to say that. Evelyn and I, we were the only people in the band at the time and if you look at the back cover of that record, she and I had gone and done these photo booth pictures, just being goofy and you know we decided to use it for the back of the record. It really just made me sad that we took those photos in what I think like January and when the record came out in June the circumstances had just changed so dramatically. At that point we were working with a booking agent who helped get us on with Lagwagon and Less Than Jake. It was supposed to be like the thing that did it for us. This record is a different experience in a positive way because I couldn’t have made it before COVID. I think that kind of thing in general is hard to quantify but I  couldn’t have made this record when I was younger, there’s a weight to it that I’ve put into it that I don’t think I was ready to do. There’s a certain amount of contextualized spiritual weight that lives in a record where you’ve had a little bit more time to experience. Specifically with releasing KILLERMAJESTIC in the middle of the pandemic with this skate punk song called “Firecracker” that like belongs on a Tony Hawk soundtrack, trying to get people stoked on this in the middle of everyone’s loved ones passing away, not what we wanted or what we needed. So that was a really rough time and then just having everything at first get pushed back, so you retained hope and then everything was clear that it was not being pushed back, but it was just gone and wasn’t coming back for a very long time, years. Being so close to doing everything that you thought you were going to be doing and having all your plans go out the window, that was rough. This time around, this record was written in like in one room, I just did it on my laptop, that was the way I wrote most of it just to get me through living a life without shows and without music. There was hardly any interpersonal interaction so it’s a very lonely record, it’s a very introspective record and it kind of sucked to make but I’m excited to go do something with it because it’s what we have. I’m happy with what we’ve made because it’s honest and it might not be the most happy thing to listen to, but it’s definitely an honest time capsule for where I was at 30 and 31.

I think introspective, that’s a really good word to use. I’ve done a few of these interviews where these bands had their last release right during COVID like yours. I think that’s a great word to summarize it up with these releases that they maybe wrote during COVID that are getting released now, they’re very honest and very introspective.

Another topic I wanted to hit on was going from a two-piece to a four-piece. I’ve always known Plasma Canvas as a two-piece, but talking to Henry beforehand, he said it was kind of a long story for going from a two-piece to a four-piece, but also that the four-piece that’s recorded is different from who’s touring, could you walk me through kind of how that happened a little bit?

Well it’s been a ride. Originally, it wasn’t anything, it was a collection of songs and to tell the story about going from a two-piece to a four-piece is to also tell the story about going from whatever it was to a two-piece. So when I moved here from St. Louis I had a bunch of songs that I had written and I wanted to just document them. I was inspired by like Laura Jane Grace, she was a big one. There were really no other trans rock stars that I resonated with at the time of this, other than like G.L.O.S.S. I had these songs that I wanted to document somehow and so I made a record with this guy that I found on Craigslist named Dave Sites and we tracked everything. We were not ready to record, it’s very loose, it’s not a very good record *laughs*. But it wasn’t supposed to be a two-piece band, it was just like I wrote these songs and I’m fine with just playing whatever and know I just need someone to play the drums. We ended up like enjoying playing as a two-piece and I was really into this sound of plugging like a Chinese counterfeit Gibson Les Paul into like some fuzz pedals and a bass amp. It just turned into being a two-piece thing and it was never really intended to be one, but you know I like ‘68 and The White Stripes and Royal Blood and all those bands. I was like ‘sure, this could be fun, let’s see where this goes.’ After a while, it became a practicality because it was easier just to hang out with one person and only have one other schedule to work with one other opinion to run things through, so we kept operations small to keep it true and honest; like not have a bunch of people poisoning the well. But also in doing that over time, I kind of realized that that was stifling the process, like a self-imposed creative limitation. Whenever Evelyn started playing with me in 2017 it solidified as a two-piece thing and it was very much a part of our identity. Every time somebody would tell us to get a bass player, we’d tell them to fuck off *laughs*. But I think the idea was there the whole time, I wrote baselines that are on the first record and on our first EP No Faces. I played bass parts and sang. KILLERMAJESTIC was the only one that I had just the guitar and bass amp and a bunch of guitar amps, there was no bass. But you know it kind of just needed to happen eventually because I felt the same like two-piece cliches coming of just putting various spins on what other people are already doing and you know. I felt that it was just what needed to be done to be true to the songs.

Right, that makes a ton of sense coming from the idea of limiting yourself by only having two members.

From the beginning of the project, Plasma Canvas, that name comes from just wanting to be vulnerable and share like blood on a canvas. Now I’m working with people who understand the idea is to keep it emotionally honest and to retain a tight rhythm section because that’s what we built our sound on. But it doesn’t have to be a certain thing, it’s all about serving the songs and what the songs need it to be, not that we can only have like a guitar and a drum set. It was just a matter of getting away from like some self-imposed box that we had put ourselves.

I think that idea lines up exactly with this new record because you have some songs on this that are unlike anything you’ve done prior. Could you talk me through maybe some of your influences that you think show through on this new record?

You know there are a lot of like subtle ones and some that are just not very subtle at all. I have a few favorite bands and I don’t like to be like ‘this is where this comes from’, but you know my favorite couple of bands are Jimmy Eat World and My Chemical Romance, a couple of bands that are really into albums that do great storytelling. That’s kind of the vein that I like to fall into but also keeping a conscious eye on esthetics, like how it feels to live in this record. I think all of that is a result of going through a traumatic event like the pandemic. The whole record in general has a sense, to me personally, as you’re brought it to the world of ‘I survived the pandemic motherfucker’. I think with KILLERMAJESTIC, we were trying to bring out like the five most diverse things that we could offer up to people, please like us or whatever. What this is is just kind of an honest look at where I am and not really giving a fuck, having fun with it and not worrying about the rules that people like punks and metalheads have. We’re a punk band more in ethos than sound because we really just want to do what we want.

I can really hear some good rock’n’roll come through on this new one. I mean a lot of bands are like fuck that, they’ve got something against playing solid rock’n’roll, but you guys aren’t afraid to do that. I was listening to Matt Caughthran from the Bronx on his podcast and he was describing their second Bronx record in the same way, as just putting out rock’n’roll, punk, whatever they wanted. And I think that kind of resonates with your new record, it’s really cool that you guys aren’t afraid to do rock’n’roll, punk, piano, whatever.

So what’s to come, do you guys have an album release show set up, do you have tours set up, what’s that look like?

Right now, just trying to get the word out and let people know that the album’s coming out. We’re playing these two album release shows, the day the album comes out we’re doing a super intimate hardcore show at 7th Circle Music Collective in Denver with our friends Cheap Perfume and Spells, and then we’re doing another show with them the next day in Colorado Springs at Vultures, same two bands with different openers. Then we’re doing a show at the Aggie in Fort Collins on March 4th, that would be a really, really good time for everyone to come out too because that’s like the album release party. And we’re gonna do the whole damn record that night so I’m excited to do that for the first time. We’re also gonna have like a bigger expanded lineup that night with some the played on the record too. And then we’re looking at a tour right now looping through California and then we’ll come back on March 16th in Denver at the High Dive. We have some other stuff in the works after that but it’s not really ready to like be published *laughs*.

How’s the experience been with Miles [Stevenson] playing because that’s kind of a cool little fact that Henry clued me in on when I was talking to him?

He’s great, he’s a really serious, professional musician, but he doesn’t really like to be defined by anything anybody else has done. He’s just a really good musician, like father, like son. He really cares about it, every time I come to work with him or he comes to rehearsal, he’s got his shit together, he just really cares. It’s really exciting, he played bass with us once before last year and it was like ‘damn, that was the most fun that we’ve had in a while’. So it’s nice to have him come back and really be a part of it.

Well I greatly appreciate you sitting down with me. Once again, congrats on the new release, really excited to see where this one takes you. Good luck with everything coming up, I hope to catch you soon!

Thanks again!

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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 Cresswell on “New Ruin,” The Flatliners at 20 and more!

2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring […]

2020 was going to be a big year for The Flatliners. After touring far and wide in support of their 2017 full-length Inviting Light, the band took most of 2019 off from playing live. Had things gone according to plan, 2020 would have found Canada’s finest foursome writing and recording a new record and touring heavily in support of the 10th anniversary of their album Cavalcade, an album that made even jaded old punks like me change my opinion on the Flats from being “a pretty cool young band” to “Oh damn, this band rules!” Wouldn’t you know it, 2020 had other plans for the Flats – and for all of us, obviously. Their self-imposed downtime of 2019 obviously bled into the global pandemic-imposed downtime of 2020 (and 2021 if we’re being honest) and coincided with some of the most widespread times of social unrest in probably half a century. 

And so was the environment in which the Flatliners, somewhat secretly, finally got to work on crafting a new full-length album. The resulting album, New Ruin, marked not only a return to Fat Wreck Chords as a label home after a one-album stay on Rise Records for Inviting Light, but a return to a more frantic and aggressive sound that was a calling card of some of the band’s earlier work. It is, quite simply, some of the best and most pointed and most vital music of their collective career.

Oh by the way, that aforementioned career just eclipsed the twenty-year mark. That fact is, frankly, mind-boggling not only because the band has consisted of the same foursome – Chris Cresswell on vocals and guitar, Scott Brigham on guitar, John Darbey on bass and Paul Ramirez on drums – for its entire duration, but also when you consider that the band’s members are all in their mid-thirties. I know, right?

We caught up with the Flatliners’ inimitable frontman Chris Cresswell just prior to his heading abroad for a few shows with his other band – a little project called Hot Water Music – to talk about the last couple of years in the Flats’ camp, the writing of what turned out to be some of their angriest work to date, and the ability to simultaneously celebrate both the new album and the comfortable, confident place that the band finds itself at two decades into their collective career. Coming off of the longest break of their career seems to have left the band recharged and laser-focused on what’s to come.

Read our full Q & A with the always affable Cresswell down below. Oh, and check out New Ruin if you haven’t already. Here’s our review of the album, which is out now on Fat Wreck Chords and Dine Alone!


(Believe it or not, the following has been condensed for content/clarity reasons.)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So how’s it going?

Chris Cresswell: Good man! Just actually enjoying ten days of home time between tours. It’s been a wild, wild year. I’ve barely been here, I feel like I’m more riff than person this year. (*both laugh*) But in a good way. It’s nice to be back to it. I’ve had a couple little chunks of time at home lately, which is good, man. Necessary. Fill the tank up, you know?

Congratulations on twenty years (of The Flatliners as a band)! It was officially twenty years, what, last week?

Yeah, (September) 14th.

That is wild.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, you know? It’s strange to think that it’s twenty officially now. Last year we were planning all the stuff we were doing this year, anticipating the 20th, and we were just like “how the fuck does this make sense?!”

When you can measure the span in multiple decades, it kinda does weird things to your brain. 

Absolutely. 100%

I went to a show for the first time in a while this weekend. I saw Face To Face, and we were doing the math, Scott (Shiflett) and I, while we talking, and I realized it’s been 25 years since I’ve known those guys and that we’ve been friendly. Like…I have people in this scene that I’ve been friends with for a quarter of a century…

A few days before the band turned 20, Scott (Brigham) and I realized that we’ve been friends for thirty years. We met the first day of kindergarten, and in Ontario at least, the first day of school is always right after Labor Day. So, we were like “well, we met in ‘92,” so we looked up Labor Day of ‘92 and double-checked it with the school district calendar and we were like “damn, officially thirty years!” So it’s been a big year, for a lot of reasons. Those are two of the big reasons in my life anyway. It’s been a lot of reflection, but it’s good too, because it’s positive reflection that can propel us forward. As much as we’ve been celebrating the twentieth anniversary of The Flats, it’s nice for us to also have a new record out to celebrate the present and take us into the future. It’s not all just pure nostalgia train. And that stuff is cool, I have no problem with that. It’s a powerful drug! But I’m just glad there’s both things happening. 

You talked about reflection, and we’re coming out of a time where we were all sort of forced to stay home for however long any of us chose to stay home for…did this period of reflection on twenty years sneak up on you after not really being able to do anything but reflect for a while?

Certain elements of it did, for sure. As much planning and scheming as you can do as a band, everything still comes down to the wire. Everything needed to be done yesterday (*both laugh*) and that’s kind of the nature of the music business at large, as well. But to be honest, that downtime of those couple years, we were pretty well prepared and organized in terms of getting to work and making sure that things were ready for when they needed to be ready. Knowing when we wanted to put the record out – inevitably that got pushed to the summer, but we wanted it out earlier than that – but that kind of always happens anyway, pandemic or major vinyl delays aside – so that was okay. 2021 was pretty well organized and planned. The lamest way I could put it I guess is that we executed everything in a pretty timely manner, which was cool. Because we had 2020 to basically, like, forget we were in a band. 

How much stuff did you guys have to cancel in 2020?

A lot, really. A lot! Because we had basically taken 2019 off. 

Oh right!

Yeah, back in like spring of 2018, we were like, “well, by the end of this year, we will have gone everywhere we could go on Inviting Light, let’s do something we’ve never done before and take a break.” It was weird to talk about it at first, and then we were all behind the idea, because we all needed it. We had never done that, and it was just years and years and years of solid, heavy touring. 2019 we played two Flats shows, officially, and then we played like a private party with friends and family, and then we did like a Smashing Pumpkins cover set at a different show…which was cool! It was fun! So the idea was that we’d come back and do the Cavalcade 10th-anniversary tour pretty much everywhere, and then we would make a record at the end of 2020 and hit the road in 2021 with a new record, and we’d hit all those places again that we had just hit with the Cavalcade shows. And then all of that took a shit! (*both laugh*)

We canceled a lot. There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t announced. I think there were only two tours that were announced that we had to cancel – I think the UK and Europe one was in the spring of 2020, maybe late April? And then we had a West Coast run in May or June that was announced. But we had shit booked for the whole year. The first month was basically like, who knows what the hell is happening…at first it was postpone everything, then forget that, cancel everything and just figure out how we’re all going to survive and if there’s a way the band can help with that. I mean, we all have lives outside of the band too, which is why taking the break was nice in 2019 and onward. It ended up being I think what everyone needed. Because I know myself and I know that if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would have been on tour that entire time. I needed that, and I needed for it to be that everyone was home from touring! (*both laugh*)

And I don’t mean that as a competitive thing, it’s just that knowing that this is what I do, and this is what makes me feel most like myself…especially after a year off from The Flats at least – Hot Water was busy but Flats had the year off… I was kinda ready to hit it pretty hard again. But in the end, I was very thankful to have that extra time off. The first few months, we were just chilling and not doing much and kind of enjoying some downtime as best you could. As strange as it was and as many horrifying things that were happening in the world, it was comforting to be home for the first time in forever. And then the writing really started late summer, early fall or 2020. Once that started, it was just like laser focus on that.

Was that the timeline anyway? If you wanted to put out an album in 2021, would you have been writing in the last part of 2020 anyway?

I think we probably would have tried to put a lot more ideas together in the first half of 2020 – or at least spring and early summer while we were touring. We don’t write a lot on the road, but at least if we had ideas we could share them that way and start to compile the list of ideas, and then finetune them when we got home from tour. The idea was to record a record like fall – end of the year in…I guess 2020. 

It’s all a blur. (*both laugh*)

Yeah! And it doesn’t matter that it didn’t happen that way, because the way it went down for us is the only way that everyone else knows about. It was nice to have that extra time and to write a lot…

Did you write a lot more for New Ruin than for previous records?

A bit more. We always are in the habit of writing more than we need. For most records, we end up with about twenty songs kinda ready to go. Some of them are always inevitably not as strong as others. For this record, we wrote…I think the final count when I was sending the guys all these ideas I had was like twenty-five or -six. Something like that. Some were fully worked out, some were not, but then we just kinda whittled it down to what we put on the record.

Did you go into it with a direction, either sonically or lyrically, that you wanted to focus on this time? 

I didn’t set out to do that, but very quickly with what I was writing about and how the songs kinda felt energy-wise, it seemed like there was a pretty clear vision. Well, there was a pretty clear thesis statement which was “People suck (*both laugh*)…and the world is fucking crumbling all around us.” From there, the benefit of having all this downtime is that I had a lot of time to think about how I personally wanted to bring these ideas even to the rest of the guys, and then us as a band, what we could do together to solidify that even further and go into the studio with a really clear vision sonically and thematically. I had a really clear vision at that point lyrically. And then even not just that stuff, but how we wanted to roll out the record, what we wanted to do with videos… Lucky for us we were working with Fat (Wreck Chords) again obviously, who we fucking love – there’s a reason we’ve gone back, because they’re just family. And with Dine Alone in Canada, it’s great. The whole team is strong.It was the strongest and clearest vision I think I’ve ever had and that the band’s ever had going into something. For sure. 

Did it sorta snowball on you, the idea, especially thematically, start as the snowball at the top of the hill or whatever they say and then just pick up steam once you realized there was obviously plenty of subject matter to choose from…because it seems a little more focused than just saying that “people suck”…it seems like a really focused and direct record.

That’s true, that’s true. I’m trying to think of the first few songs I sent to the guys…oh man, I could probably tell you…(*pulls out phone*)…One of the first songs I sent to the guys was “Rat King,” and that was a song where I was like “racism sucks and white people are THE WORST! (*both laugh*) So I’m going to write a song about that.” Maybe that’s a shock to people that that’s what that song is about, but it is! (*laughs*) I never really know what a song’s about until the lyrics start coming. Sorry, I don’t mean to do this during the interview but I feel like it would be cool to know (continues scrolling through phone)

Do you hate actually talking about what the songs are about? Because I know some songwriters don’t want to spoil that thing where “once I write it, it’s not mine, it’s yours” – but sometimes I like to know how the sausage is made.

For sure. And I think with other records I’ve been like “Well, just listen to the song because it feels like it should be pretty obvious.” And that’s I think because on previous records, a lot of it was that I’m a product of my environment and I’m writing about what I know. During all those years of making most of those records, pretty much from The Great Awake up until Inviting Light, a lot of it was on the road, really heavy touring years, and I’m writing about that. I’m writing about what that does to me, what I’ve seen that do to other people, how that feels. And it’s not always negative stuff, but it’s that experience. But this one, having done a lot of the writing at home and seeing and reading and learning about how fucked pretty much everything was around all of us for so many reasons, but all of them really at the end of the day being at the hand of human beings, I don’t mind talking about it because I made a decision to write more about what was going on in the world around me rather than my view of the world.

So, here we go…the first three songs that I sent to the guys were “Rat King,” “It’ll Hurt” and another song that we didn’t record. “Rat King” was one of the first ones that was out there, and it’s a very angry and pointed song about a particular thing and particular people. I think from there – well, “It’ll Hurt” is maybe more like a bit of the older lyrical style that I’ve done over the years. So it was cool to have both of those things kind of running alongside each other, those themes of like how I feel in general and how the world is making me feel right now. At some point, I decided to go down that one path of “let’s just talk about the world and what’s happening right now.” And I’m no expert on any of these subjects, these are just my opinions, you know? (*both laugh*) But if someone out there is reading that “Rat King” is an antiracist song and they’re shocked by that, that’s kind of troubling. And if they don’t like that, we don’t want you to listen to that song. We don’t want you to listen to our band (*both laugh*) if you’re not an antiracist person, you know?

Seriously, it floors me every time that stuff like that comes up from whatever artist, from Woody Guthrie to Springsteen to Jason Isbell or whoever, when people are like “shut up and stick to playing music” it’s like…boy, you have REALLY not been paying attention at all, have you?

No, and like, my God, how many people have learned about how to use their voice through music, you know? It’s a cultural wave that hits people in different ways, but it hits people! It’s similarly confusing when I meet someone who, hen we’re talking and the topic of music comes up and I say “oh what kind of music do you like?” and they say “oh, I don’t really like music.” I think “oh, I don’t trust you at all!” (*both laugh*)

Right!!

And I know that’s subjective because, I mean, music is my entire life, but really, you can’t even tell me like what music you like? And when you hear it, it makes you feel a certain way? I don’t know…

That’s weird. It’s like people who say they don’t like dogs or whatever. Or cats, I guess, although unlike you I’m an anticat guy.

See that’s the thing though, people have an opinion about which animals they prefer. But when people are like “oh, I don’t really like animals…”

That means you’re a sociopath.

“What, you don’t like joy?” (*both laugh*) But really, it was nice to have that time to sit and think about how much I hate the fucking world! (*both laugh*)

Right, but then, as a songwriter, I don’t want to say that’s an awesome responsibility because that’s probably overstating things, but does that seem like it’s a big responsibility, to say “I want to actually talk about this shit in a way that makes sense to me and hopefully to people who have been following and listening to me for twenty years? Because that’s a lot to take on. We had nothing but time to pay attention. It wasn’t just that things sucked for a long time – and probably stll do – but we had all the time in the world to focus on how much it sucked. We had to focus on how racist this little country to the south of yours is …

Hey man, mine too! Mine is no angel. People like to think it is, but we have got a dark history.

Well and some of that came out during the two years of hte pandemic, with all of the news about the indiginous kids at the Catholic boarding schools. It’s an overwhelming responsibility to be able to put some of that shit into words in a way that makes sense, no? 

I think that there is definitely a responsibility there. It’s a choice I made to write about this kind of stuff. I’m no authority on the subject, but I know how it makes me feel. At the end of the day, that’s always what I’ve done, it was just different subject matter. Now having all this time to sit in those uncomfortable moments and let those pieces of information – those horrifying pieces of information – the thing you just mentioned about the residential schools in Canada, for instance, let that bounce around in your brain for a while and see how that makes you feel. It’s not going to make you feel good because it’s a terrible thing, to say the very least. It’s a horrifying thing that happened. It is an absolute privilege of mine, and I know that to be true, to just be able to be the guy to sit there and write a song about it instead of being somebody who lived through it, you know what I mean? I understand that there’s a difference, but I’m trying to put my opinion out there in a song in a way where maybe, like we said earlier, it can hit someone in a way that it allows them to think about an issue a little differently.

Or, really at my age now, I’m 35, and I’ve been able to write music for a long time and express the way I feel for a long time, but I feel like at this age – maybe for some people it’s a little earlier or a little later – I feel like I’m part of my community. I feel like I’m a responsible person adding to a community. I’m not trying to take anything away from it, I’m trying to add to it, but not trying to take up too much space or time or air either. That’s very tricky to do in music and in art and this type of thing, but at the same time, there are so many people with maybe a dwindling but a still-existing attention span to hear your ideas, you know what I mean? That’s how I started to think about it and feel about it as well. I’m just trying to add to my musical community with something positive. Essentially, having the conversation about these issues, or at least putting my side of the story out there – and my side of the story is that human beings are the fucking worst and we could do so much fucking better (*both laugh*) better to ourselves, to each other, to the planet, all these things. It was all hitting me so hard because I had time to sit around and think about it. Otherwise man, I’d be on tour, I’d be in a fucking bubble, I’d be living a tunnel vision life like I always was. Not every song on the record, but a lot of the songs on the record are about these particular issues…they’re not new issues, they’re things that I’ve now been able to try my best to compute this kind of information and put it out there. That’s why that record is so angry, because it was not an easy time for anyone!

Did that inspire the sound of the record too? It’s sort of interesting to listen to the last two records back-to-back. The first song on Inviting Light…”Mammals” starts with that sort of slow build. It becomes an uptempo song obviously, but to contrast that opening with “Performative Hours” which punches you in the face right from the beginning and the album doesn’t really let up from there. Was that a conscious choice too, with the heavy subject matter, to put that heavy music behind it as well?

Yeah. Some songs, the lyrics come first even in little fragments, sometimes it’s the music…well, it’s hard to say really which happens more than the other. But if the lyrics came first or at least I knew what I wanted to write about, I knew that the energy of the song had to match that, and vice versa. Because I was already in that mindset of being just pissed off, a lot of the music was very angry, so I knew that the lyrics had to match that. To be honest, once we had a good pile of songs to listen through – the ideas were still being worked on, but once we had a handful of songs where we were like “whoa, this is angry,”…the guys were like “whoa, you’re pretty angry.” (*both laugh*) Like “why not, of course I am, how could I not be?” (*laughs*) I think at that point we were like “well, let’s just make a record that’s going to punch people in the fucking face” like you said. Once the consensus was to open the record with “Performative Hours,” which was an idea that came up early on, we were like “oh yah, this is perfect!” We were able to build off that so well. Musically I think it takes twists and turns throughout the record, but once we chose the songs that we wanted to put on the record, we were like “damn, this is pretty relentless actually.” And that’s what we wanted to do, and I’m so happy with it. And it was the most fun that I’ve ever had making a Flats record, which is funny because it’s the angriest record we’ve ever made by far! (*both laugh*)

And it’s also really guitar-heavy! I mean obviously the Flats have been a guitar band, that’s always sort of been at the front and center, but it’s really riff-heavy this time. I think I texted you when I first heard it that, like, I had plans – my wife and my daughter went out of town for a weekend, and I think I got your album and Jerry sent me the new Mercy Union record on the same day, and they are both really good, guitar-heavy albums and there are so many riffs that I just like “fuck having plans, I just want to play guitar and figure out riffs tonight!” (*both laugh*)

I love that!

But that seems like a bit of a stylistic difference too. Does that come from sitting around the house for a couple years and just playing guitar, or did they come when you started writing with the guys?

A bit of both. It’s always a mixed bag. Each record turns out to be a response to the previous record. I think on Inviting Light, we were trying to build – it turns out – a bit of a different vibe and a different style. We were so close to it that we didn’t really realize what we were doing fully, but I can say that I knew when we were writing the record that we wanted to let a lot of those Inviting Light songs breathe. There were more subtleties, and we’d talk a lot about that it was just as important to know when not to play as it was to know when to play. With this record, we were just like “no, let’s just hit ‘em with everything!” (*both laugh*) Each record becomes an exercise in these things, which is really cool, and we’re lucky that the four of us in the band have gotten to do this together over all these years now. We discover more of ourselves each time we write a song together or make a record together. Part of what we discovered on this record is that we just wanted to fucking rock, dude! (*both laugh*) I know it’s so stupid to put it that way, but it’s real! The energy and the theme of the record and how angry the material ended up being, we’re like “well, we’re going to make this record sound as insane as we can, as powerful as we can.” Sonically that was the vision going into it, that we wanted to make it sound big. Not like something we couldn’t replicate live, because that’s always a bummer, but something that we could just hit people with. Because then when we play these songs live, we are going to feel the power of these songs and we’re going to bring it even harder. Especially after a couple years of not being able to play at all together, let alone go on tour, there’s this newfound excitement. Like, I’ve gotta relax a little bit on stage.

I was just going to ask that. 

I’m ready to like kick a hole through the stage every night because I’m just like “I’m fucking back!!” It feels really good.

And then you get three songs in and you’ve got to take a knee. You’re in your mid-thirties now, man…

My first show back was a Hot Water show, and it was at Furnace Fest in Alabama in 2021. I was terrified before the show, I was nervous, I was anxious, I thought I was going to forget everything. And the first note we hit, I was like “ oh fuck yes!” and I was literally stomping so hard on the stage. I think Chuck sang the first three songs and I was like “I gotta chill! I’m like winded and I’ve gotta sing in nine minutes.” (*both laugh*) And it’s the same with the Flats now, man. When we got together to really dig through these ideas as a band after almost a year of sending ideas back and forth, this was now late Summer 2021…the four of us hadn’t been in the same room in almost two years! It was the longest it had ever been. It was amazing and it was emotional and I remember like a week after that when we went to go record, after doing like a week of (pre-production), we did like a “have a good show” thing before we were recording and we kinda all went “fuck, man, this feels powerful.” There was an energy to it, man, and it sounds kinda cheesy but it’s true. It had been so long at that point since we had done anything together, and we kinda knew what we had to. Not in an arrogant way, I hope it doesn’t come across that way because I hate that shit, but there was a confidence in what we were building together and what we wrote and were going into record. Knowing what we wanted to do helped us feel so confident that we were like “fuck, this is going to be awesome.” We’ve never really operated that way before, we’re kinda like “well, I hope people like it!” With this one, that’s still the case, but I think that all of those things – the time away from each other, the time away from this, the time away from the band and being able to do our quote-unquote thing – it just kinda solidified the love for it and the power in it to us, you know? 

Well because that could go the other way, right? You could take two years off and just not really be in it anymore or just get to a place where you think you’ve done everything you wanted to do in music or with the band and then be on to the next thing. 

And I respect that too, man. It totally depends on the person. I’ve got a lot of friends actually who made that decision since everything that’s happened the last few years, and I respect that. The four of us, like I said, each have lives outside of the band and things have changed. Touring nowadays, we can only operate in a certain way. That’s cool though, because it keeps it special and it keeps, maybe, that feeling that we’ve discovered when making this record and now celebrating twenty years and everything WITH the new record, it keeps that energy and that excitement alive, instead of “hey, let’s go on tour for ten months straight…” (*both laugh*) Fuck that, man, oh my god. 

Is this the first time you’ve written a full album without playing any of the material out before? Like, would you workshop things on the road before?

We’d show each other ideas but we wouldn’t jam a lot on tour. We did that a little bit on Cavalcade, and we just felt like we were annoying the people that were working at the club. Because we were soundchecking, and in that era we weren’t headlining the show so if we were opening the show, we might get a thirty-minute soundcheck if we got one at all. The fucking bartender and the venue staff do not need to hear us working through the same 16 bars of an idea over and over again (*both laugh*). We started to do it offstage. Jamming and putting it together as a cohesive thing always happened at home.

Once the songs are fully fleshed out, though, are there songs that would actually make their way into the live set before anyone heard them? Because now everyone’s had a chance to get to know the album for a while before you can hit the road.

I think we’ve always been a little bit protective of playing new stuff before it’s out, and I don’t know why really.

I feel like that’s a YouTube thing.

Yeah?

Yeah, because people videotape shows and put the whole thing up on YouTube now, so if you have a song that you’re sort of woodshedding, why play it in front of people because then everyone knows what it is, and then maybe you don’t even like that song or maybe it takes a turn in the writing process, but now you’re sorta stuck with the way it sounded that one night in Detroit in June or whatever. 

Totally. We actually did this very recently with “Rat King” for the music video, but that was the first time we had done that in, I don’t even remember. It was a long time. It could have been for Cavalcade or something, because we recorded a big chunk of Cavalcade one year, then we went on tour for like nine months or something, and we finished (recording) almost a year later. So I’m sure in that era of Cavalcade being like half done or three-quarters of the way done, we were probably playing a couple of those songs live. But, for “Rat King” we did a video shoot in Toronto and part of it was a show we played. We ended up doing this last-minute show at our friend’s bar, Hard Luck, and it was like a week’s notice. No one knew why we were doing it. We had a Midwest tour coming up and we were like “fuck it, let’s play a show in Toronto, and we can film it. We’ll let everyone know we’re making a video, so if you don’t want to be in the video, go to the back, if you want to be in the video come to the front! (*both laugh*) We’re just going to play this one song that you’ve never heard before, and that was kind of exciting. That was the first time we had done that in a while and it was cool. But aside from that…I think “Performative Hours” was already out at that point, maybe “Souvenir” was already out or was about to come out. People knew there was going to be a record, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to play a new song. I think that’s maybe why, because in the past we haven’t wanted to do that because it kinda spoils the surprise. We like to record records kind of in secret. We don’t typically post stuff from the studio

I was just thinking that, yeah. I was looking back at the Flats Instagram account and I did notice that you didn’t post teaser things or whatever from the studio, it was like, all of a sudden here’s the cover art and the first single!

It’s similar to the way that we wanted the record to sonically and musically be, that kind of relentless slap in the face. We wanted to just be like “WE’RE BACK! SURPRISE!” And also, you never know how long after you finish tracking a record, how long the entire process will take. Like for instance, we’re talking today, the 26th of September, and the last day of tracking in the studio for New Ruin was October 3rd of last year. So we finished almost exactly a year ago. Then our friend Dave did some piano tracks at his home studio after that, and then mixing we took our time with. Because we like to take our time with this stuff. That shouldn’t be a surprise to any Flats fan at this point (*both laugh*). So I think part of me and my approach to it which I think trickles down to the guys – only because I’m the most neurotic with this shit, more than Scott, Paul or John – is that, if we put it out that we’re in the studio, people get excited hopefully, and then like a year later the album comes out? I feel like you kinda lose the excitement. You’d lose it on me at least. If it’s a band I like pulling that move, I’ll have completely forgot that I saw that picture or watched that video by the time the record comes out. So we like to be a little secretive about it. It’s fun! There’s not a lot of mystery left in the world, so if we can create a little bit, it’s fun for us!

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DS Interview: Chris Estrada on growing up punk in South Central, “This Fool,” the Punk Rock Museum and more!

I’m not what you would call a “Big TV Guy.” If I’m being honest, I could count all of the combined episodes of cultural landmark shows like Game Of Thrones and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and The Big Bang Theory and CSI that I’ve ever seen on one hand and […]

I’m not what you would call a “Big TV Guy.” If I’m being honest, I could count all of the combined episodes of cultural landmark shows like Game Of Thrones and The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and The Big Bang Theory and CSI that I’ve ever seen on one hand and still have a majority of my fingers left over. Sure I’ll watch baseball nightly and the occasional West Coast NHL or NBA game in the MLB offseason. But otherwise, aside from absurdist-but-grounded-in-reality comedies like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it takes a lot to get me to care about a TV show and so the remote is better served in someone else’s hands.

And so maybe a year-and-a-half ago, probably while waiting for yet another rewatching of Letterkenny, the Hulu default screen showed the trailer for an upcoming show called This Fool. There was a graffiti tag of something called “Hugs Not Thugs,” followed by a slow pan across a group of tough-looking, face-tatted Latino guys sitting in front of a wall sign that said the same. There was Michael Imperioli lecturing the group about regaining their lives over a breathy soundtrack that I think was Enya but might have been Sade, I’m not sure. There was yoga and there was a clean-cut counselor-type informing a mustachioed ex-con about legal counseling and rehabilitation and job development courses and dental insurance plans, and so of course this was the makings of yet another feel-good docuseries. And then the mustachioed fella asked the counselor fella why, if he had dental insurance, were his teeth still fucked up. From there, the true nature of the series was revealed. 

For the uninitiated, This Fool centers itself on the life of the aforementioned counselor-type – portrayed by comedian Chris Estrada – and his life in and around Los Angeles’ hardscrabble South Central neighborhood. Estrada’s character, Julio, works at the ex-offender rehabilitation program Hugs Not Thugs under the tutelage of flawed white savior Imperioli, where one of the “thugs” is none other than Julio’s cousin Luis (portrayed here in pitch-perfect fashion by Estrada’s friend and fellow comic Frankie Quinones), who was fresh out of an eight-year stint in prison. It’s brilliant and funny and it’s done with a sense of heart and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also somehow both absurd and super real, both of which I can attest to as someone who spent many years working in a correctional reentry-type program in an overwhelmingly Latino community, albeit with 100% less cupcake. 



Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? I did, right? Because it’s hilarious. In addition to occupying the starring role, Chris Estrada – a standup comic for the last decade – also serves as creator and writer, loosely inspiring the narrative arc after his own life and upbringing. Why am I telling you all of this on a punk rock website, you might ask? Astute observers of This Fool will notice that Estrada’s Julio character doesn’t seem to be a follower of the hip-hop culture that his neighborhood has so long symbolized. Instead, as evidenced by his wardrobe, it seems Julio is a bit of a punk. It’s evidenced not in cheesy, over-the-top, too-pristine-to-be-real placement of a Green Day or Good Charlotte poster. Instead it’s his wardrobe, with subtle nods to Strummer and Television and Love And Rockets and wait, was that a Channel 3 shirt? Yeah, that was a Channel 3 shirt. Holy cow.

And so it’s no surprise that Estrada himself is a punk rock fan. Like, a HUGE punk rock fan. While he’s never played an instrument or sang in a punk band or put on underground shows, Estrada has lived and breathed punk rock since his formative years. He’s a huge enough fan that next month, he’s hosting not only a weekend of tours at the critically-acclaimed Punk Rock Museum in Las Vegas, but a comedy show (featuring Fat Mike!?!?) and a screening of a few episodes of This Fool. He’s a huge enough punk fan that visiting Ian MacKaye and the Dischord House on a trip to DC was as at least as monumental an experience as his first appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. Yes, really. 

I caught up with Estrada over Zoom last weekend for a lengthy and far-ranging conversation and almost immediately found in him a kindred spirit, inspired and informed by the very ethos and music and words that influenced my own upbringing, despite our growing up not only more than 3000 miles apart as the crow flies, but in cultures that, in some ways, could not be more polar opposite. Estrada was a first-generation immigrant from a non-native-English-speaking family, whereas…well let’s just say that the Stones departed England 388 years ago bound for the greater Boston area and, yeah, we’re still there. 

Photo of Chris Estrada in a Los Angeles-themed tee shirt. He's standing in front of a pink background. Photo taken by Mindy Tucker.

If you were alive and aware in the 1990s, you’re not doubt familiar with Estrada’s old stomping grounds of South Central and Inglewood not as synonymous with punk rock but with hip-hop and, unfortunately, of gang violence. The community was largely African-American and had been for generations, through was also seeing an influx of first-generation Mexican and Central American immigrants. And while the music and the rhythms sounded different, Estrada points out the similarities in the overlapping themes contained within punk rock and hip-hop. “For a lot of Latino kids growing up in LA, if they’re first-generation immigrants, I think there’s this weird thing of trying to find yourself, so you don’t want to love your parents’ music, because you’re trying to assimilate. And then, at the time, rap felt like something that was for and by black kids, and so you’re kinda looking for your own thing. For me, I found punk rock.” He adds “what’s funny is that the way that rap music and hip-hop spoke to them and their anger, I felt like punk rock did the same thing for me.”

Like many others who found entry to the punk rock community in the mid-90s was through the two-headed beast that was the “EpiFat” sound. “It was the tail end of the compilation era,” Estrada explains. “I remember Punk-O-Rama volumes 1 and 2 were really big for me.” It was also the days when FM radio A) still existed in a meaningful sense and B) still played punk and underground music, especially in Los Angeles. “The big radio station out here, KROQ, had Rodney On the ROQ on Saturday or Sunday nights, and he was a guy who broke the LA punk scene – The Germs, The Adolescents, The Screamers, he played the Ramones early on. And by the time I was listening to him, he would still play those bands and newer bands. That was definitely an entry point for me.


As you might imagine, Estrada was a bit of an outlier growing up a punk rock kid in South Central and, later, Inglewood. “I could be playing The Clash or whatever on my headphones, but if I took them off, I could hear people playing hip-hop or people playing Mexican music or Central American music. There was always a sense that all of that music was always around me informing me, you know?” Estrada explains. I’ve said a few times on these pages that at my high school, despite being one of the largest in New England at the time I was going there, there were only a handful of kids in each grade who were really “punk rock kids.” For Estrada, it was no different. “I went to high school in Inglewood, and I think if you lined us all up, there were maybe like 20 kids? Maybe?

Little-by-slow, however, the scene would grow, though in a metropolis as sprawling and diverse as the City Of Angels, this meant different scenes comprised of different cross-sections of participants. “There were two types of scenes, really,” states Estrada. “If you went to go see a show in Hollywood, where a bigger band was playing, there would be a few Latinos there, but not a lot. But if you saw a local show in South Central or in Inglewood or in Compton, it was mostly Latinos with a few black kids there. I remember going to see NOFX very early on. I was like fourteen. There were a couple Latino kids there, but it was mostly white. Maybe a few black kids or Asian kids sprinkled in. But it wasn’t really until a lot of garage punk bands started popping up that it started becoming a thing.

Even though he didn’t play in a band or contribute to the scene in that manner, Estrada carried the flag for punk rock in a meaningful way. “I really loved it and I was just a nerd about it,” he explains. “Getting into Japanese stuff and all that. I literally got a job pretty early on just to buy CDs, you know? I saved up and bought a record and started buying 12-inches and 7-inches.” That behavior carried through the years, even when regular show-going took a backseat to working two or three jobs in order to afford to eventually live on his own. “It was also tough though because as I was getting older, and as I was having to pay rent and have more stability, it seemed like the scene was flourishing more. I wasn’t necessarily a participant in it, but I was definitely an advocate of it. I felt so excited by it, and if I had a chance I would go see shows. Or I’d go buy a 7-inch or find the band on Bandcamp. So as I got older, I wasn’t there at every show, but I was just so excited that I could advocate for it.” 

As time progressed, Estrada felt stuck in the rut of working regular jobs – labor jobs and warehouse jobs and the like. “I was really vicariously living through musicians, seeing these men and women doing whatever they wanted and taking their lives into their own hands,” he states. “I was miserable that I couldn’t do that, and that I wasn’t doing that.” And so eventually that brought a dedication to trying something different; stand-up comedy. And while that didn’t involve punk rock in a musical sense, it certainly involved a punk rock ethos and work ethic. “I remember that I saw that Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo…and I was so inspired by that. I said ‘I’ve just gotta do what they did’.”

Estrada began his comedy career as many do; on the open mic circuit. “I remember my first open mic, I had a really good set, and then my second mic, I bombed my dick off. It was humiliating, but at the same time, I knew when I said ‘okay, I’ll try it again tomorrow,’ that I could get over it. That actually made me feel more like a comic than having a good set.” One set a night turned into two and three and four sets a night, sometimes spread out across the city. Again, the roots found themselves in punk rock. “Like, if you read Get In The Van, the (Henry) Rollins book, Black Flag would constantly practice. So I started viewing my practice as getting up at open mics two or three or four times a night if I could. It was really cool to apply that; that this was my version of it, so I would apply that Minutemen/We Jam Econo work ethic to it.”


The more he kept honing his craft, the more he realized he was part of his own version of a punk rock scene. “I remember when I started doing comedy,” he states, “there was a scene there, and I felt excited because I found my version of punk rock to actively participate in. So then I started going to shows and doing open mics and hosting open mics and throwing shows and really being part of the scene. It felt really exciting.

The story of how, after a decade or so of plying his wares in standup while working at least one day job, Estrada got the seemingly unlikely call that someone was interested in him writing and starring in a TV show based on his life has been told other places so we don’t have to rehash it here. It involves the guys that created the Comedy Central show Corporate and eventually fellow unsuspecting punk rock aficionado Fred Armisen and then eventually Hulu. And as I mentioned above, even though (or maybe because?) the show is loosely based on his life, Estrada made it a point to make nods to his punk rock roots. “I just wanted to casually put punk stuff in there without being try-hardy about it and not making it a big deal,” he explains. “My character in the show casually just wears punk rock shirts; not every episode, but you try to make it in a way that it counts when you do it…I think that sometimes you do those things and it feels forced, you know?” In addition to the visual nods, the show’s soundtrack pays constant homage to the more underground bands that inspired Estrada’s upbringing. “We got music from bands that I knew in LA. Latino punk rock bands, like this band called Generacion Suicida from South Central Los Angeles. This other band called Tozcos, we used some of their music. We also used like a D.O.A. song, so we try to mix it up.” 

I can’t find who made this, but I think it rules. The featured image above of Chris on a couch is by Jakob Layman. The image of Chris in the LA RESPECT shirt is by Mindy Tucker. The picture of Chris in the Love & Rockets shirt is by Mandee Johnson.

There’s no official word on a Season Three of This Fool yet; get your shit together, Hulu! If/when it does officially find its release, it’ll no doubt be as funny and pitch-perfect and full of punk rock Easter eggs as ever. Maybe we’ll even see a Dying Scene shirt. Wait…that’s actually a good idea…we should send Chris a Dying Scene shirt! In the meantime, you can check Chris out at the Punk Rock Museum next month (12/15 – 12/17) and you can especially keep scrolling and read our full chat, where we bond over mutual admiration for Ian MacKaye and Joe Strummer and Mike Watt and about how punk rock is about more than just fashion and so much more.


The conversation below has been edited and condensed for content and clarity. Yes, really.

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I was just looking at my list. I’m closing in on 200 interviews that I’ve done over the years, and I’m pretty sure this is the first one I’ve done with someone known more for acting and comedy than for music. So this is pretty awesome!

Chris Estrada: Yeah, I’m not even a musician, I just love punk! (*both laugh*)

And you never were, huh? Never played in bands in high school or whatever?

Nope, nothing. I don’t know how to play a lick of an instrument. Never sang, never anything. I just loved it. When I started getting into punk, I had no inkling to want to play. I just loved watching it. I wanted to be an observer and to participate in whatever way I could, whether that was by going to shows and buying albums and things like that. I just loved it. Sometimes I think that I should have participated more. Maybe what I did was enough, I don’t know. I just love it. 

Yeah, but you carry the flag for it, and we need that. That’s ultimately what I do. I don’t play guitar outside my dining room most of the time – I think much to my wife’s chagrin because I probably have too many guitars for somebody who doesn’t play guitar – but we need people carrying the flag; taking pictures, telling stories, so that people know that the scene is more than just Green Day and The Offspring. Those bands were awesome, and they were a lot of people’s entry points to punk rock, but the scene is so much bigger and more diverse than that. 

Yeah! I have a show and in the show, I just wanted to casually put punk stuff in there without being try-hardy about it and not making it a big deal. My character in the show casually just wears punk rock shirts; not every episode, but you try to make it in a way that it counts when you do it. It’s not a thing that we make a big deal out of, we just kind of let it be. I think that sometimes you do those things and it feels forced, you know? But I also like to wear band shirts of bands that I like, and who I grew up loving, and contemporary bands. On the show, we got music from bands that I knew in LA. Latino punk rock bands, like this band called Generacion Suicida from South Central Los Angeles. This other band called Tozcos, we used some of their music. We also used like a D.O.A. song, so we try to mix it up. 

Let’s not gloss something over; you said you have “a show” – your show is amazing. 

Oh thank you, man!

I love This Fool. My wife and I binged both seasons when they came out.

That really means a lot, thank you!

It’s different, it’s honest, it’s funny. It’s done with heart, but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. You mentioned the ‘try-hard’ thing before; there are a lot of boxes in the show that you could check that could be try-hardy if you didn’t get them right. The fact that you base it in your neighborhood, South Central, there’s your culture, there’s the music tie-in…it could seem like it’s checking boxes, but it’s so real and it’s so authentic and relatable and I say that as somebody who is obviously from the complete opposite side of the country in every way you could be. 

Thanks so much, man. That really means a lot. I just try to make it feel really casual. In my mind, when I was growing up, it was a big deal to me but…I think when you grow up in certain areas and maybe a lot of people aren’t into what you’re into, you kinda learn how to just be friends with anybody.

Exactly!

So you might throw on a Clash t-shirt or a Spazz t-shirt or whatever and some of the people in your neighborhood are like “oh, that’s what he’s into” and you find other ways to relate to them, you know?

You grew up rather famously in South Central, and Inglewood, and you were doing so in a time – the 90s – where that neighborhood and that part of the world were in the midst of being memorialized in history through hip-hop. 

Yeah, totally!

It was sort of ground zero for “gangsta rap” as the media referred to it. But that area and that scene were right in the middle of this cultural moment. What was your experience growing up through that time? I grew up in New Hampshire listening to all of that music – in addition to punk rock – but what was your experience actually growing up there?

My experience is that it was very working class. There was a lot of gang violence in LA. I know there still is, but at that time, it felt very big. But it was definitely very working class. It’s kind of interesting to me because the world was very black and Latino to me. That part of the city is a historically black neighborhood, and then you started getting a bigger Latino population and at some point, it was more of a 50/50 split. My experience was knowing the world as a very black and Latino place, and sometimes there’s racial tension, sometimes there’s gang tension. Sometimes there’s not, though, you know? Sometimes it’s not that sensational, and it’s just as mundane as any other neighborhood. But then sometimes there’s a lot of shit going on, like NO other neighborhoods, you know? So it was interesting in that sense. I always used to say that I grew up liking hip-hop, but the thing I gravitated toward passionately was punk rock. I illustrate it like I could be playing The Clash or whatever on my headphones, but if I took them off, I could hear people playing hip-hop or people playing Mexican music or Central American music. There was always a sense that all of that music was always around me informing me, you know? And trying to be a square kid, you know? I wasn’t a cool kid, I wasn’t a nerdy kid, you know? I was more of a stoner kid. I liked smoking weed and listening to records. And listening to punk, there weren’t that many of us, you know? 

I was going to ask that…how big a punk rock community was there in South Central?

There was a handful at the time. I went to high school in Inglewood, and I think if you lined us all up, there were maybe like 20 kids? Maybe?

How big a high school are we talking about?

Maybe 2000? So there were always a handful of (punk rock) kids throughout the different grades. Some of us were friendly with each other. Some of us were tighter with each other. I remember there was this punk rock kid who got his ass kicked by some gang members because they didn’t like it. They didn’t like that he had piercings and he had green hair. It probably didn’t feel masculine to them or something, you know? And because there was racial tension, we had race riots sometimes at our high school. But what’s funny is that the way that rap music and hip-hop spoke to them and their anger, I felt like punk rock did the same thing for me. And I remember when I was in high school, I found out that there was a powerviolence band from Inglewood. 

Oh really?

Yeah, Despise You. It was a big deal to find out that they were from Inglewood. At the time, it was probably a little weird. Sometimes you might be mocked for liking that kind of music, people would call it “white boy music” or whatever. But you had to stand your ground, you know, and say like “Rage Against The Machine is diverse,” or “what about Bad Brains?!” or you’d find out that like Chavo from Black Flag was Puerto Rican. I think finding those people in the scene helped you realize, okay, this is for everyone. 

Of the twenty kids at your school who listened to punk rock, how diverse was that crew?

Majority Latino. I’m sure there’s a lot more black kids now who are into rock music and into punk, but back then it was a majority Latino. I think for a lot of Latino kids growing up in LA, if they’re first-generation immigrants, I think there’s this weird thing of trying to find yourself, so you don’t want to love your parents’ music, because you’re trying to assimilate. And then, at the time, rap felt like something that was for and by black kids, and so you’re kinda looking for your own thing. For me, I found punk rock, and even if I was listening to English bands, I don’t know that I necessarily thought about it as white (music), but it was the emotion of it that I really gravitated towards, you know?

Who was your entry point? Who was your first band that made you go “oh, this isn’t just cool music, this is who I am and what I am”? 

You know what? It was the tail end of the compilation era. I remember Punk-O-Rama volumes 1 and 2 were really big for me. That mid-to-late 90s Epitaph/Fat Wreck Chords sound was an entry point for me. I was also listening to the big radio station out here, KROQ. They had Rodney On the ROQ on Saturday or Sunday nights, and he was a guy who broke the LA punk scene – The Germs, The Adolescents, The Screamers, he played the Ramones early on. And by the time I was listening to him, he would still play those bands and newer bands. That was definitely an entry point for me. But when I listened to that Punk-O-Rama, I remember the weirder stuff standing out to me. Like, I remember The Cramps were on one of those Punk-O-Rama comps, and I was really taken back by them. Even stuff that was like maybe not the traditional Epitaph sound, like DFL. They had a song on there, and they sounded like an 80s hardcore band. Things that sounded a little different, like “Coffee Mug” by the Descendents was on one of them, and that really informed me. And obviously things like Rancid and Social Distortion. And then I started digging deeper. And The Clash. They were a big deal for me, and still are. 

Oh for sure. I am a couple years older than you, I think, but I think for our generation, Joe Strummer has become almost a mythical person. I think he and The Clash are probably more important now than they were in 1983 or whatever. I certainly think they’re more important to me now than they ever have been. I never saw The Clash – I was six when they broke up or whatever, but they’re more important to me in my early 40s than they were even when I was in my 20s.

They really informed me so much. When I was 15, a buddy played an album for me, and I remember listening to “Janie Jones,” and “White Riot” and “Complete Control” and all that stuff and I was completely blown away. And I remember as I got more into them and bought albums, I would think “oh, I remember this song! This really cool song I used to hear on the radio is also them!” And then, like “oh ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ is them too!” But they also informed me so much because they knew how to take a photo! There was something iconic about looking at them. There was something so great about the imagery around them. About their album covers.

But it also seemed so authentic, too. 

Yeah! And by the time I was getting into London Calling and Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Sandinista! and seeing the cover art. Like opening the liner notes to Sandinista! and they had a map of Central America and realizing they named that album after a left-wing revolutionary party in Nicaragua, all that stuff really informed me a lot. I just loved them. That was another entry point, for sure. But also the Sex Pistols and the Ramones and then a lot of independent stuff that was going on in California. There was this label called Ebullition Records here in California – in Goleta – and they were putting out a lot of great records, like this band Los Crudos who I got into through them.

From Chicago, yeah? 

Yeah, from Chicago! They had a split with this Bay Area band called Spitboy, an all-female band. Getting into those independent hardcore 90s bands was super influential for me. I really loved it and I was just a nerd about it. Fucking getting into Japanese stuff and all that. I literally got a job pretty early on just to buy CDs, you know? I saved up and bought a record and started buying 12-inches and 7-inches. Getting into bands like PiL and even at the same time getting into mainstream stuff. Like, I loved At The Drive-In when they broke. I saw them early on at an independent venue out here called the PCH Club, and I would go see bands like The Locust and At The Drive-In and all these cool bands. 

At what point did people stop sorta teasing or making fun of you for being “the punk kid” because you just got so into it, so they were just like “well, that’s Chris…”

Nobody really made fun of me. Maybe my cousins – my older cousins – they were like gang members so they were like “What is this stuff?”. And you know what? When I was growing up, I didn’t really dress punk. Maybe I had a band t-shirt, but then I would just wear like a jacket and jeans, but it was like one of those windbreaker jackets. You could tell I was into something, but I didn’t look like I was in Rancid, you know? And also, very early on, I got into Minor Threat and Fugazi and all of that Washington DC stuff, and I saw that they didn’t have mohawks or dress like that, and I thought that was dope, like “oh cool, you can just be a regular dude, a regular fool, and just rock whatever you want to rock.” That really informed me a lot; that it didn’t have to be about fashion.

You mentioned Fugazi…I’ve tried to think about this a lot in recent years to figure out what the first band I really got into that was a punk band was, and it was either Bad Religion or Fugazi. And you’re right, neither of them dressed “punk rock.” Jay and Greg from Bad Religion had leather jackets for a while, but that was about it. And I got into both of them through Pearl Jam, oddly enough. I was a super big Pearl Jam fan right when they broke, and in those days you would read interviews and read liner notes and see who your favorite bands mentioned, and Eddie Vedder always talked about Fugazi and Ian Mackaye. So it became “well, if Eddie likes them, I must like them.” And then, I forget if I heard Repeater first or In On The Kill Taker, but thinking “holy shit, what is this music!?” It was unlike anything I’d really ever heard at that point. 

Yeah, for me it was kind of the same way. Songs like “Public Witness Program” or “Facet Squared.” I remember Rage Against The Machine’s first album, looking in the liner notes to see who they thanked, and I remember them thanking Joe Strummer and Ian Mackaye and wanting to learn more. Or then sometimes buying things based off a cover. I remember when I was a kid, I went to this record store and I saw a Reagan Youth CD where they were dressed like Klansmen. And I remember it taking a second for me to wrap my mind around it. The album was called A Collection Of Pop Classics, and when I looked at the back, the titles of the songs sounded kind of leftist. And so I went “okay, I think they’re playing with imagery and they’re being ironic on the cover. I think I could buy this.” (*both laugh*)

And that was really before you could Google it. I mean now if you go to the record store, you can Google it or you can just take a picture of the cover and search that and it pulls up everything you wanted to know. But back then, yeah, you had to kinda do a little research on your own. 

Yeah! Like, I would go to Tower Records or whatever record store I could take the bus to when I was a kid and buy like Punk Planet or of course Maximumrocknroll. Or even the popular magazines like Spin and Rolling Stone would cover punk bands sometimes. I would find other ‘zines, like there was this zine out here called HeartattaCK Zine that I would buy and find out about these independent bands and learn more about their scenes. 

So let’s fast forward to Punk Rock Museum opening up. I’ve not been yet; I’ve never set foot in Vegas, and honestly I haven’t really wanted to at many points over the years until Punk Rock Museum became a real thing. And not like a cheesy thing, but a real and cool and authentic thing. Where did your involvement with them come from?

I remember I was following them on Instagram when they put up their Instagram page and I was like “yo, this is cool!”  I wasn’t ever skeptical, but I was definitely like “how’s this going to be?” I was so curious. And when they opened up, I kept following them, and they had reached out to me and told me that they were fans of This Fool and whatnot. I was planning to go out there, and then what ended up happening was they invited me out to do a live podcast with Damian (Abraham) from Fucked Up. 

Oh I’ve heard it! It’s great!

Yeah! We did the live podcast. It was Damian from Fucked Up, and then Fred Armisen was going to be there doing tours and he did a cover set, where he played lots of punk rock covers in the bar that they have called the Triple Down Bar. That was really the start of my involvement when they asked me to come. I was really blown away. It’s such a real museum and at the same time, it’s interactive. It’s curated so well, and people that I’m a fan of helped curate it. People like Brian Ray Turcotte who did that book Punk Is Dead, Punk Is Everything, and he did Fucked Up + Photocopied. There was another guy who I follow on Instagram @AncientArtifax whose name is Brian too, he’s a really sweet guy. He and Bryan Ray Turcotte I think leant some of their collections of memorabilia. But also, a lot of musicians lend them their stuff. So I went there the first time and I had a blast. I had a great time. They asked me if I would be willing to do tours and maybe even a comedy show, and I said “yeah man, I’d love to!” I think it’s such a great place and I’m so happy it exists. And I’m not a Vegas fan. I grew up in California, and Vegas is only four hours from us. People often drive there for the weekend. So not being a real fan of Vegas, this gives me an excuse to go. I’m really excited to give tours there. They have a really impressive Clash and Joe Strummer collection.

Yeah, I saw that his family was just out there. 

Yeah! I’m really excited. I got to walk the museum when Fred Armisen was giving a tour…

What a brilliant musician, by the way. Wildly underrated as a musician, I think.

Yeah! Totally! 

His brain works on a different plain, I think.

Yeah, it’s crazy. He played in this great band called Trenchmouth who opened for Fugazi. 

Oh sure!

They put out a few great records. He brought punk to SNL. Those great sketches on SNL with Ian Rubbish and Crisis of Conformity. 

Yeah, and the wedding band!

Yeah! I’m really excited to give tours. I think I’m going to get there a day early, because I want to have a game plan.

I was going to ask, is that overwhelming or intimidating?

It is but in a good way.

Obviously you’re a fan of the music, but to know what you want to highlight and how to tell the story…

Yeah, that’s a big thing! I want to have an idea of what I want to highlight, and I want to make it fun and interactive. I want people to have some fun with it, and I’ll be funny if I can. I’m really excited because it’s such an amazing place. And then we’re going to do a comedy show. It’s going to be me, this comedian named Bryan Vokey who used to play in punk bands. He used to play in a band called Neon Piss. And then this other comedian whose name is Nicole Becannon. She’s really funny. She doesn’t come from the punk world, but I just think people would love seeing her. She’s going to be a part of it. And then Fat Mike’s going to be there. 

I heard that!

Yeah, it’s going to be pretty funny.

I heard your podcast with Damian and Fat Mike, especially the second part, where it was just over Zoom or whatever…and I have to say that you’re a phenomenal interviewer, for what that’s worth. 

Oh thank you!

And even the Pete Holmes podcast from last year, where the two of you are just sitting on his couch, where you weren’t necessarily the interviewer, I still think that you’re a phenomenal interviewer. The way that you ask questions and the thought that you give to how you process questions and how to follow up, you do a really really good job. 

Thank you! Yeah, I try to be thoughtful about it. When we did that podcast, me and Damian, it’s called Killed By Punk, and we just thought “let’s be a little more introspective and a little more critical, without being annoying.” Just the idea of having an introspective conversation on punk, it’s a thing I’m always thinking about. 

And Mike especially is an interesting to get your feet wet at interviewing. He can be tough to wrangle sometimes, having talked to him a few times. 

Yeah, he’s such a personality, and he’s not an asshole, but he’s an abrasive person in a sense. It’s in a joking way, but if you don’t know he’s joking than it can be a lot. But also, he has a lot of ethics and a strong belief system about what he’s doing. He’s a really interesting guy. 

I think in a lot of conversations he does, he’s always in charge. Mike steers the ship, even if he’s the subject and not the interviewer, and I think a lot of that is by design to still keep a little bit of a wall up. Like, he’ll be really forthcoming, almost uncomfortably so, and exposes so much of himself so that you don’t pull back the curtain of what’s behind that sometimes, but I think you did a great job of sort of disarming him and you could tell he was really thinking.

Yeah, yeah! He was so interesting. So he’s going to do the comedy show with us, and then I’m going to screen two episodes of This Fool and do like a Q&A. 

That’s awesome!

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. It’s such an awesome place. It’s curated so well, and at the same time, it’s a work in progress. The way you see the museum is not the way it’s going to be forever. 

It’s a living thing, yeah.

Yeah! They are doing an exhibit now with James Spooner who did the AfroPunk Festival

Oh yeah, one of our contributors just did a little spotlight piece on him

I think that’s so cool! I heard him on NPR and he plugged the museum. He said the most brilliant thing – he wasn’t showing necessarily pictures of black punk bands, but they were showing photos of black punk audiences. And he was showing that it wasn’t just bands, there were black kids going to shows as audience members. I thought it was brilliant. Such a brilliant take on that.  

I want to go back to something you were talking about earlier, and that was the idea of racial tensions, particularly in South Central and Inglewood in the 90s when you were growing up. What was the scene like when you started going to shows? Was it mixed race or did you kinda stick out as being non-white?

There were two types of scenes, really. If you went to go see a show in Hollywood, where a bigger band was playing, there would be a few Latinos there, but not a lot. But if you saw a local show in South Central or in Inglewood or in Compton, it was mostly Latinos with a few black kids there. I remember going to see NOFX very early on. I was like fourteen. There were a couple Latino kids there, but it was mostly white. Maybe a few black kids or Asian kids sprinkled in. But it wasn’t really until a lot of garage punk bands started popping up that it started becoming a thing. When I got older, there was a band called Hit Me Back that was these young Latino kids from South Central Los Angeles playing really fast hardcore. That was really exciting! Or I’d find out about these bands from East LA, like Alice Bag and The Bags, and I found out about the Stains and other bands like that. And I’m not from East LA, but then you’d find out that there were other bands out there so you’d start going out there. It was a pretty majority Latino scene but you would have other kids mixed in. There was a big backyard scene, a big independent scene that felt like it was flourishing more as I was getting older and I was having to go to work so I had less time to go. But it made me happy to see it. I was so excited by it. I remember going to see Fugazi. There weren’t a lot of Latino kids, but there were a couple of us there. I went to the Palace to see Fugazi on the Argument tour, and I just loved it. 

What was your first show? 

My first punk show that I remember was …oh, man, I’m trying to think. I could be wrong, but I think it was either NOFX or The Vandals. One or the other. I saw them both around the same time. It was maybe like ‘99? ‘98 or ‘99, somewhere around there? Yeah, I think it was 1998. And then there was a band that I saw pretty early on that was a hardcore band that would mix hip-hop into it, and they were called Downset.

Oh yeah! I remember them. I feel like maybe I remember them playing with like Shootyz Groove or Primer 55 or something. 

Yeah! I think I saw them open for Sick Of It All. My buddy was a big Sick Of It All Fan, so we went to see them and they opened and then I think maybe Vision Of Disorder played too? (Downset) came out of the LA hardcore scene. There was a venue out here called the Macondo that they came out of. And they were pretty diverse. The singer, Rey, was from South Central Los Angeles, and some of the other members were from different parts of LA, but they all came from a graffiti background. They were in some pretty established graffiti crews out here. They had a hip-hop element to it, but they also came from hardcore. The singer would have like a Crass or an Agnostic Front patch on. 

And if that was late 90s, that was sort of when that crossover between hip-hop and rock and metal were all really flourishing. 

Yeah, and Downset. blew us away because they were pretty diverse. So yeah, it felt like if you went to see bands in Hollywood it was a little more white, but if you went in your neighborhood when there were a lot of backyard shows going on, those felt mostly Latino.

Would those shows be musically diverse as well? Like if the punk scene was smaller in Inglewood or Compton, would there be more variety of bands on one of those shows? 

Sometimes, they could be. Like, you would have a street punk-sounding band play with like a ska band. Or maybe a metal band would be on a show, or a more new wavy band. Yeah, I think you’re right. Not every show, but some shows definitely felt a little more diverse musically.

Did going to shows change what the music meant for you? Like did you have that moment where it went from just music you liked listening to to really feeling like it was a scene you were now a part of?

Yeah, it felt that way. It felt exciting. It was also tough though because as I was getting older, and as I was having to pay rent and have more stability, it seemed like the scene was flourishing more. I wasn’t necessarily a participant in it, but I was definitely an advocate of it. I felt so excited by it, and if I had a chance I would go see shows. Or I’d go buy a 7-inch or find the band on Bandcamp. So as I got older, I wasn’t there at every show, but I was just so excited that I could advocate for it. 

Yeah, because you do have to work, at some point. Or you have a kid. In my case, I knew pretty early on that I was going to be on the “go to college, get a real job” route versus trying to play in bands forever, so at least I can help run a website, you know? Or teach yourself concert photography so you can feel like you’re contributing. 

Yeah! Totally! And I think with punk sometimes, and with music in general, you can let it be a soundtrack to your life. That can be good or it can be bad. I think sometimes when I Was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life, I was vicariously living through other people. But it wasn’t until I decided to do something that was “my thing,” because I didn’t want to just work at my job anymore. And there’s nothing wrong with just having a job, but I just wanted to do something else. I think when I started in comedy, that felt like part of a scene.   Through punk, I was more of an advocate because I was buying records and going to shows, but I wasn’t necessarily taking photos or throwing shows, and I didn’t play any instruments, so I was really more of an advocate of it. But I remember when I started doing comedy, there was a scene there, and I felt excited because I found my version of punk rock to actively participate in. So then I started going to shows and doing open mics and hosting open mics and throwing shows and really being part of the scene. It felt really exciting. 

Yeah, so then that was your way of doing the same thing that the punk rock kids were doing. 

Yeah, it felt that way! I also felt so frustrated; like I was really vicariously living through musicians, seeing these men and women doing whatever they wanted and taking their lives into their own hands. I was miserable that I couldn’t do that, and that I wasn’t doing that, so when I finally did, I remember that I saw that Minutemen documentary We Jam Econo, and I was – and am – such a big Minutemen fan and a big Mike Watt fan, and I was so inspired by that. I said “I’ve just gotta do what they did. As much as I love it, I’m not a musician, so I’m not gonna go up and play music, but I always loved comedy and always wanted to try it, so I would go to open mics and just apply that approach. That documentary – and punk rock in general – were really influential to my approach because it helped to have a work ethic. To get up every night and go to two or three mics a night. Like, if you read Get In The Van, the (Henry) Rollins book, Black Flag would constantly practice. So I started viewing my practice as getting up at open mics two or three or four times a night if I could. It was really cool to apply that; that this was my version of it, so I would apply that Minutemen/We Jam Econo work ethic to it. 

I got to talk to Watt once for one of his projects – he’s got so many that I don’t even remember which one it was – and it was just such a touchstone moment for me. That band and Watt himself as a solo musician in the 90s were such a barometer of, like, the cool people – the cool music fans and the cool punk fans, they were Mike Watt fans. And so to get to pick his brain for an hour or so and meet him and shake his hand was just amazing. 

Yeah, that documentary was so instrumental to me. Around that time, I just remember being so bummed out, because I truly was just living vicariously through other people, and I was almost doing that thing that you shouldn’t do and looking at these people as idols. Because they’re telling you “look, anybody can do it!” 

Especially in punk rock, yeah!

Yeah! Like whether it was Martin Sorrendeguy of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist or Ian Mackaye or Mike Watt, or even like Patti Smith – I realized that I was living so vicariously through them that I was putting them on the idol pedestal and I was looking at them like “oh, I can’t do that…they’re special.” But the whole thing is they’re telling you anybody can do it! (*both laugh*) So I thought to myself that I always wanted to do standup, so let me just do it. And if I didn’t like it, or I didn’t like the feeling, that’s okay. At least I tried it. And then I started doing it and I liked the feeling. I mean, there were nights where I didn’t like the feeling, but I chopped it up to like “well, I’m sure these bands had bad nights, you know?” 

Did you get that feeling right off the bat? Like, that first open mic, especially after you said “okay, even if I’m still working at a warehouse, I’m a stand up comic”?

Yeah! Because with so much of comedy, you can be a comic and still have a regular job. I remember my first open mic, I had a really good set, and then my second mic, I bombed my dick off. It was humiliating, but at the same time, I knew when I said “okay, I’ll try it again tomorrow,” that I could get over it. That actually made me feel more like a comic than having a good set.

Oh sure! Part of the honesty in comedy is the struggle.

Yeah! So I just thought that if I could bomb my dick off and then wake up tomorrow and go alright, we’ll try it again” I think that’s really what comedy is. Good sets are amazing, but it’s when you can survive a bad set. 

When did you get to the point where you could be a full-time comic and leave the rest of it behind? Was that once This Fool started? 

There is something about having a profession that pays you to just keep doing that that makes you feel validated. But also, at the same time, the idea that I was working a regular job at a warehouse and I was getting up every night and doing open mics and getting booked at bar shows or produced shows at clubs – even though I wasn’t a professional comedian, I still felt like a comedian. I was living that lifestyle. I might have a real job, but that’s okay.

People in punk bands have real jobs too, right?

Yeah! Absolutely. Just because somebody is a math teacher when they’re not touring doesn’t mean they’re not a musician. And that’s what standup felt like. It consumed my life. I was getting up every night and going out every night. But I also wanted to make sure I worked with a purpose. The thing about comedy is that it can give you a Peter Pan syndrome, which I’m assuming music can too, in that if you don’t take it seriously and you’re just enjoying the hang, before you know it, ten years have passed and you’re still just hanging out. You’re not really working towards anything. So even early on, I said to myself “have fun, but make sure you’re working. Make sure you’re putting in the work and writing new jokes and asking to be on shows, and when you’re on those shows, make it count. Try your best to do good so you can get on the next show and you can build more time. It was validating once I got the show, because I considered myself a writer – I always wanted to be a writer – and I was inspired by movies and TV and I wanted to make things. So getting to make the show felt like that next level, where I got to start making things. 

Was standup a mechanism to get in the door of the writing world? Was writing more the long-term goal?

A little bit. It was funny because I was trying to become a writer but I didn’t know a way in. And so when I wanted to do standup, somebody said “well, if you want to try standup, just do standup, because if someone sees you out, you might be valuable to them, because you can write and also do jokes. But then my life became so consumed with standup that I was just always working on standup, and I felt like it was informing my writing. It also had an immediacy to it. When you write a script, sometimes before you are comfortable enough to show it to a friend to give you notes, it might be a month or two. As opposed to with standup, you write something and you go up that night and try it and it’s immediate, whether it’s funny or it bombs. That immediacy to it, so I got into writing, and the habit of writing made me write scripts more, because I was always thinking about jokes and stories. It definitely informed my writing. 

Do you find it easier to write a joke that’s going to work well in a standup set versus to write a situation that’s going to be funny on a TV show? Are they two different things?

It comes from the same brain, but it’s a different thing, yeah. A joke lives in the moment. With a script, you have to get notes passed, and then sometimes something might get lost in translation. But it’s still fun.

We talked about of your musical keystone people, but who were they in comedy for you? Who are the people you looked up to, especially once you became a comic?

Oh man. Even before I got into comedy, there were comedians that I enjoyed listening to. Like Maria Bamford. She was a big one. 

She’s a riot!

Yeah, she’s great. Dave Attell was somebody I really liked. Colin Quinn. This guy named Patrice O’Neal

Rest in peace.

Yeah, rest in peace! He was from Boston. There was another guy named Greg Giraldo that I really liked.

Rest in peace as well. He was a big Clash fan too, I think.

Yeah! Yeah he was! People like that, people like Patton Oswalt, Felipe Esparza. They’re all people I enjoyed. It’s funny because they never really inspired me to do standup, because they were so funny that it was intimidating. What was really inspiring to me was going to open mics and seeing people who were still trying to figure it out. Because I was like “well, if they’re still figuring it out, it’s okay for me to go up there and try to figure it out.” But now, I feel so inspired not just by comedians who are older than me, but I feel inspired by my friends. People who I started with and who are still doing it and starting to get careers. I feel inspired by them and their minds and how they view the world and how they view the world. Like my friend Ramsey Badawi, my friend Opie, Bryan Vokey, Paige Weldon. All these people that I started with and we’ve been in the trenches for like ten years now, they’re exciting to watch. 

I think Frankie Quinones from your show is a riot!

Yeah, yeah, Frankie! That’s my buddy! I love Frankie. 

He is so funny. And so, one of the things that is really I guess special to me about This Fool is that most of my professional career was spent working in like correctional reentry settings, working with people on probation and parole and getting out of prison. That’s what I did for fifteen years or so. So part of the Hugs Not Thugs thing is near and dear to my heart. And most of my time was spent in a community that was overwhelmingly Latino. Lawrence, Massachusetts, is an old mill city, so it’s always been an immigrant city; it was French Canadian and then Irish and then Italian and then starting in the 70s Puerto Rican and more recently it’s majority Dominican. That’s where I worked and who I worked with for a long time, and Frankie’s character and the way he plays it on that show is pitch-perfect. It’s so spot-on. I know it’s a different side of the country and different cultures, but there’s a lot of overlap.

Yeah, it resonates! Truly. And that character is based off of my cousins. But also, what he brought to it was his own upbringing. Even though he wasn’t a gang member himself, he had family just like I did who came from that world, so he brought a lot of that to the role. He’s a guy who took me on the road with him years before we had the show. He saw me and he was like “come open up for me!” so I would open for him a lot. He’s a great friend. He’s hilarious.

To bring things full circle to punk rock, obviously one of the big things that everybody holds in the highest regard in the punk rock community is authenticity, and the whole idea of “what is punk rock” and selling out and all of that. Now, I think a lot of it is bullshit, but there is some validity to part of it, and I think that a punk rock thing that your show gets is the authenticity of the experience. Not playing those people as caricatures. Not using the neighborhood or the people as “the joke,” but portraying them in such an authentic way that’s still fun. 

That was such the goal. Showing the world and letting the world and the characters be. Don’t glorify them and don’t dehumanize them, just let them be.

That’s a tough needle to thread, I imagine. 

Yeah! Yeah, it was tough. It’s a tough needle to thread sometimes because it’s tough to write. I come from that world and I know what it’s like to not glorify it and not demonize it, to just let it be. It’s tricky, but (Frankie) did a good job of humanizing that character. Even the fact that I’m bigger than him is funny. (*both laugh*) The idea is that not all these guys are over six feet with tattoos on their faces. We always joke around that he brought not just a vulnerability but like a Joe Pesci kind of bravado to it.

Oh totally!

That’s the idea. To humanize it, and to not be didactic either. We’re not trying to change anybody’s minds, and not trying to justify anybody’s humanity. Just show the world as it is and as I know it, and let people make up their minds. Give the show heart without being saccharine. Without being corny or too sentimental. 

Do you get feedback from people in the old community about that? About how well you got the tone? Or are there people who were critical of it?

Yeah! There are people who were critical until they watched it. And I get that. If I thought something was about my experience, or close to my experience, or about where I grew up, I would come in with a sense of skepticism. But most people have been really nice. I’ve had people give me compliments and say “man, you really nailed down not just the culture, but the idea of working-class people, of that specific part of LA.” I’ve had Latino people and black people from that neighborhood tell me that they liked it. I think the goal is I always try to write something that resonates with working-class people, but also might resonate with academics, and doesn’t pander to either/or. And that also puts funny first. There are a lot of shows now that are comedies but they ride the line of being “dramedies.”They skew a little more dramatic than funny. Our idea was to ride the line of being incredibly funny but also telling real stories. We can make a show as funny as Workaholics or It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, but we can ground it in reality. 

That rooster story has to be real, right? It’s so absurd that it had to be real.

Oh yeah! Yeah! 

That’s what I kept thinking in watching that whole narrative arc, that “oh man, this is obviously a thing that happened.”

Yeah, that was a real story that happened to me a number of times throughout the years in whatever neighborhood I lived in. My black neighbors would complain about the Latino neighbors having roosters. That was a real thing. I remember when I took my friends who I created the show with out and drove around the neighborhood – because they’re not from there – and we passed by a house that had roosters and chickens out. And we’re in the city, right? It was a thing that really cracked them up. I was put in those situations where a neighbor would be like “you gotta talk to Don Emilio … that thing has to go!” (*both laugh*) That was totally based off a lot of real situations that happened. 

Now that you’ve seen a modicum of success with the show and you’ve been opened to a wider audience and had new experiences like getting to do Jimmy Kimmel and things on that level, and getting to meet whoever you’ve met since having the show…do you get more star struck in situations like that, or did you get more star struck about things like going to the Dischord House

Oh man…(*pauses*) going to the Dischord House. I went there and I was pretty awestruck in the sense that it just meant so much to me. Fugazi is one of my favorite bands, and they just meant the world to me. And also that label, and growing up and reading about that scene as a kid, and being into bands like Nation Of Ulysses and Slant 6 and those types of bands. But at the same time, I do get it like…so Michael Imperioli is on the show, and when I first met him and he came to set – I had only met him over Zoom – but when he first came to set, it was intimidating not necessarily in the sense that I was starstruck by his sense of fame, but I was intimidated by his talent. Because I’m not a seasoned actor by any means and he is, and I’m going to have to act alongside him. That was incredibly intimidating. 

Also a musician, though!

Yeah, also a musician, right!

Our good pal Jared runs the record label that put out Zopa’s record.

It’s Mount Crushmore, right?

Yeah, Mount Crushmore! Jerry is a friend of my wife and I. We have a little crew down there in New Jersey that we try to go visit and go to shows with a couple times a year. And for him to put out that record, for what it meant to that little crew, was super rad. 

That was super exciting. I love his band. 

Totally. And you don’t expect it from Christopher Moltisanti.

Right!

Although I have to confess – I have seen one episode of The Sopranos in my life. I never had HBO, and I also have a thing about not wanting to start a show when I’m so far behind – eight or ten seasons or whatever. It seems like so much work to get into. 

I understand that. But you should watch it. It’s one that you’ll enjoy because it’s actually a very funny show. And it’s a show that you’ll enjoy because if you watch a season, you can kinda take that season in…it’s serialized, but it’s not as serialized as other shows. Sometimes it’s slightly episodic. But yeah, getting to work with him, and then we had Bill Pullman on an episode. I wasn’t necessarily star-struck with him either, but I was intimidated by his talent. It was like “wow…this guy is a very talented actor who has been on his game for decades…” I do remember one time I got star-struck, and that’s when I saw Joe Strummer before he passed away. I saw him three times; one at the Hootenanny, which was a festival out here in southern California. It was mostly roots and rockabilly-type music, but on this one, they had Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros and they had X there, and maybe Chuck Berry played? It was pretty exciting. So, I saw Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros there, and then I also went to go see them at the Roxy, and then at the Tower Records they did a signing. I’ll never forget the tie I saw him at that outdoor festival. I was up front, and I yelled out “Janie Jones” and they went into it. Now, I don’t necessarily think they went into it because I yelled it out, but because I had been yelling it out, he looked over at me and pointed at me and winked and then they went into the song. I was starstruck by that. The Clash were so important to me as a band. Just the way they progressed. You can listen to them playing the most raw punk, like “1977,” “Janie Jones,” “White Riot,” “Cheat,” “Hate & War,” and then you can listen to them play songs like “Safe European Home” and “Tommy Gun” and then you can listen to them playing these amazing songs off of Sandinista! that sound nothing like the rest of them. And then came songs like “Know Your Rights” and “Car Jamming” and “Sean Flynn” that sound like nothing else. I just love how they progressed and I love their story. I always tell people “even their worst album is better than most peoples’ best albums.” Even if you don’t love Sandinista!, you have to love the story of it. The idea that they would put out three records for the price of one, and then they said “we went far on London Calling, let’s go even farther. Let’s name this album after a left-wing revolutionary militia in Nicaragua.” 

Exactly. Like, “in case you still didn’t know where we stood…” 

Yeah! Exactly! You don’t have to love all the sides of that album. It has its imperfections, but even the imperfections on that album are phenomenal. As an art and as a story, I loved it.

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DS Interview: Director Bill Fulkerson on His New Tim Landers Documentary “Don’t Forget to Leave”

Don’t Forget to Leave, the brand new documentary depicting the life, creativity, and struggles of Boston hardcore and pop-punk legend Tim Landers, formerly of Transit and Cold Collective, officially premiered April 27 at First Congregational in Stoneham, MA. The film was directed by Bill Fulkerson and, although the story of Tim’s struggles was unknown at […]

Director Bill Fulkerson (left) and Editor Kyle Kuchta (right) accepting an award at the Shawna Shea Film Festival

Don’t Forget to Leave, the brand new documentary depicting the life, creativity, and struggles of Boston hardcore and pop-punk legend Tim Landers, formerly of Transit and Cold Collective, officially premiered April 27 at First Congregational in Stoneham, MA. The film was directed by Bill Fulkerson and, although the story of Tim’s struggles was unknown at the time and have since come to light, Don’t Forget to Leave gives a brand new look into, not only what eventually caused an untimely death, but more importantly what made Landers such an extraordinary talent and person. Interviews from bandmates, family members, friends, and other, industry-specific specialists give a true inside perspective into the touring lifestyle and how it can open oneself up to addictions and struggles, a problem that has become far too common in the musician world.

Fulkerson is no rookie when it comes to documentaries, or even ones with the punk community in mind. 2020 saw the release of Safer Spaces, a film focused on Shawna Potter of War on Women and her fight against injustices within the punk scene. But Don’t Forget to Leave crossed into an entirely new realm for Fulkerson because of his personal connection to Landers and the Boston music scene.

“With the War on Women doc, I had met Shawna before and I knew her, but that was more of a respect thing, I respect what you’re doing, I would like to be able to share it with more people. But this was 100% a personal thing. So many of the people that are in the documentary are people that I’ve been friends with for like over 20 years,” said Fulkerson. “I can’t imagine having a connection with any other film I would ever make like this.”

When dealing with something as personal as the passing of a friend, family member, or band mate, the sensitivity of the subject matter can be somewhat of a hurdle in fully depicting a story of this nature. “We had a hard time getting people to commit to do interviews. Everyone was very suspect of us and what we were trying to do. Some of Tim’s family members were just like “it’s too raw, I can’t do it.” Some members of bands that he was in and people that he was also friends with that were in other bands were also very protective of their own stories and, didn’t necessarily want their story to become part of his story and things along those lines,” said Fulkerson.

The emotional struggle didn’t end with the conduction of interviews. Fulkerson also made mention of the crew’s difficulties in reliving a tragedy that was all too fresh in their lives. “It’s the single most difficult thing I’ve ever, ever worked on, but it’s also like been the most rewarding thing that I ever worked on because I was able to get to learn so much more about him through the interview process, talking to people that were with him at times that I wasn’t. But it was incredibly difficult, like I couldn’t edit. My production partner, Kyle, had to edit it.”

The outpouring of support that emerged from all corners of the music community following Landers’ death made the decision to make the documentary a speedy one. “Seeing how many people cared and how many people were genuinely devastated by the loss, we wanted to do this, not only for for Tim’s memory, but also for Tim’s family because Tim’s family is amazing. But we wanted to do it for all those people that were feeling that loss. I wish we got it done quicker.”

The documentary itself is split pretty evenly between portraying the hard-working, musician lifestyle that Landers had faced head-on, and how addiction and mental health struggles emerged to create a situation that was not only tortuous for Tim himself, but ultimately for everyone around him. A struggle that first emerged in the latter half of his time with Transit and continued throughout his Cold Collective years and beyond, Landers’ story unfortunately ends tragically while on the brink of sobriety. However, as devastating a situation as is outlined throughout the film, Fulkerson fully embraces the good that has come from making this, as well as the good that is still to come.

A photo of Landers from “Don’t Forget to Leave”

“First and foremost, [I want people] knowing that Tim was an amazing person, a gifted songwriter, an incredibly talented, great person… And also, if they didn’t know his music already, give his music a shot, take a listen to it.”

“But then there’s the other side of it too… I think it sucks that everybody knows somebody [that struggles with addiction], but Tim’s story is no different. I don’t feel like enough of those stories get told. One of the things we want to make sure is that if people see this film and they know somebody that’s struggling, that they know that people care about them and people want to be there for them.” said Fulkerson. “Tim was unable to defeat his demons, unfortunately, and that really sucks, but if somebody sees this and they identify that maybe somebody they know is having issues, struggling, they’re gonna check in, see how they’re doing, pay attention to the things that are going on if there’s behavior that they’re not sure if maybe this is an issue or not… it’s one of those where it’s a bummer, there’s nothing we can do about what’s happened in the past, but we can do our best to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.”

What really stuck out to me about this documentary was the lack of agenda that was being pushed, replaced instead by interviews and stories that were writing the script. The movie had ups and downs; at one instant, Landers is portrayed by his peers as this incredible songwriter, friend, and musician, then, not long after, addiction had taken its hold and Landers became seemingly unreliable, emotionless, and clearly addicted. As sad as it was to hear those closest to Landers talking about him in an unfavorable way, this truly shows the powers of addiction and doesn’t fictionalize a story that, I believe, will ultimately help a lot of people beat the struggles that grasped Tim.

What was most clear from the very beginning of the interview was that money was in no way the motive behind this film. With the hope of profits on the back-burner, I asked Fulkerson what would make this documentary a success in his eyes. Or had it already become one?

The making of Cold Collective’s “Weathervane”

“I consider it a success already because when we did a private friends and family screening, Tim’s dad Terry flew up to Massachusetts… We showed it to friends and family and at the end of the screening, I went up to kind of do my little Q&A thing and Terry just gets up on stage and gives me a huge hug and he’s like “you guys fucking killed it”. So no matter what happens from here on, that moment with him was worth the five years of struggle, worth every minute put in editing it, everything we had to do. So it’s a success to me no matter what because of that, because of what it means to his family to be able to have this now.”

“But the other side of that is, I want people to see it, every film festival that will take it, down the road when we get it on streaming, every person that wants to take a watch. I want people to remember him and people to listen to his music and fire it up on streaming. I just want Tim to be remembered and I want people to listen to his music and just realize how special of a person he was.”

The documentary ends in the most fitting way possible, with Cold Collective in the studio piecing together old demos of Tim’s and making a full-length out of what’s salvageable. What blew my mind was the songwriting quality that Landers had left behind in the form of numerous demos, as well the actual sound quality that was salvaged of Tim’s voice and guitars. Fulkerson closes the film with a documentation of an incredible memorial of Landers and an unbelievably kickass full-length that I’ll link below.

Check out the full interview transcription of my chat with Bill Fulkerson, as well as Weathervane, Cold Collective’s 2021 record comprised of Tim’s post-mortem demos turned full-band tracks. I’m incredibly thankful to have had the chance to sit down and hear firsthand about the tragic, yet joyous life of Tim Landers. Keep a close watch for local film festivals in your area and streaming platforms for the release of “Don’t Forget to Leave”.

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

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): So congrats on this documentary. I really, I enjoyed it and I think it was really well done. I’ve noticed with some documentaries that you can kind of tell when the director is shaping a narrative and they’re trying to shape everything else around a story they’ve already got and I don’t think that was the case with yours at all. 

Bill Fulkerson: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t.

I think a good testament to that is the ups and downs kind of during the documentary. I wasn’t super familiar with Tim Landers’ story and so you’re seeing his best and you’re also seeing his worst told by the people closest to him. Did you have any kind of idea where this story was going first or was it entirely shaped around the direction of the interviews?

I mean, we knew, unfortunately, how it was gonna end and we kind of knew like the beginnings, but it was kind of filling in all those pieces in the middle and, like I knew Tim so I knew his life. There were a lot of ups and downs so it wasn’t necessarily something we planned for. Like we weren’t like “oh yeah, we’re gonna like make it a roller coaster.” Like, but we definitely knew that there’s high points and there’s low points and all that’s important to telling the story. We wanted to make sure that we told the story as true as we could while, you know, still like not taking advantage of what was a very, you know, sensitive situation.

Was there any difficulty in getting people to open up at first because this was a very touchy subject and left people very vulnerable?

Very much so, yeah. We had a hard time getting people to commit to do interviews. Everyone was very suspect of us and what we were trying to do like, like you said earlier when we were talking about, you know, having an agenda. Like people figured, you know, people just assume “oh you’re making a documentary, you have an agenda.” We didn’t have an agenda. The agenda was to tell a story. So there’s a number of people we talked to that immediately were just like “I’m not interested.” You know, some of Tim’s family members were just like “it’s too raw, I can’t do it.” Some members of bands that he was in and people that he was also like friends with that were in other bands were also very protective of their own stories and, you know didn’t necessarily want their story to become part of his story and things along those lines. But at the end of the day, you know, we got a great group of people to sit down and talk to us and, for most people, they found it very cathartic to do interviews and to be able to talk about Tim and talk about their good times with him, talk about being able to miss him and all of that. So the people that, you know, did step up, which was a very courageous thing on their part, I don’t know if I could have done it, it worked really, really strongly to tell the story because people were able to get their love for him out. And also their sadness and things they wish they knew, and kind of the whole nine yards.

And I think that’s a great way to go about it. So I don’t know a lot about how documentary film-making works in comparison to normal film-making. Did you plot this out beforehand and then kind of shape it, change it along the way as the interviews go? Or how did this work?

Yeah, you definitely kind of try to make an idea of what you think the story is going to be. But I mean, any documentary I’ve ever worked on, what we thought we were starting with is never where we ended up at the end of the day when the project was finished. As information comes out of people and as people are really like telling their side of it, things pop up that you didn’t know about because you hadn’t heard that side. Some of these things you’re going to pursue, some of them you’re not like, we definitely came across stuff that we were like “Oh, we didn’t know that, but we don’t think that’s pertinent to what we’re telling here.” And then things will come up and we were like “Oh, tell us more about that. That’s not something we realized.” So we had an idea and we veered where we could and needed to. And then also pump the brakes on stuff that we felt might not necessarily be what people wanted or what we wanted to tell as part of the story. 

So I know you said you personally knew Tim, correct? 

Yeah. So I met Tim when he was really young. He was probably about 14 and I was in local bands and he was a young kid starting to get into local bands. And I had this hardcore band called Taken By Force. It was one of those bands where I was the only constant member and we would have a revolving door. People would come in and out depending on what was going on at the time. And we had not played for a little while and then we were putting it back together and Tim had liked another band that I was in and he wanted to play. I was definitely a number of years older than him because he was just a kid. And then he jammed with us one day because we needed a guitar player and the kid just fucking ripped. He knew all the songs before he came in and he just like started taking liberties with things, like super respectful knowing he was coming into somebody else’s project. But, even at that age, I could see like this kid’s fucking amazing. But that band never went anywhere because he was forming Transit at the exact same time and within a few months, their lineup’s solidified and they were off and running before we even had a chance to like record anything.

We kind of mentioned this being difficult for the people being interviewed. Was this difficult for you to make?

Yeah. So, there were a number of years with Tim, like Tim’s Transit years where I didn’t have a lot of connection with him and they were out on the road all the time. I was an adult now and was married, I had a kid and was doing the family thing and I had stopped playing music. Then a few years after Transit, he was out of Transit and he got together and created Cold Collective and ended up doing Cold Collective with my friend Gus, who’s one of my best friends, and Paul and Darren, who are also really good friends that I’ve known for years. And I started working with them, they had my son in their first music video. It was cool to like see him and learn all these things that he’s done and stuff. And then he started to struggle with his addictions, which was something most of us never knew he was struggling as bad as he was. Like the whole Transit thing happened and nobody really knew exactly what happened. There was one story that this person would tell them one story that this person would tell and there was never really a clear answer as to what actually happened. And nobody wanted to ask because it was a really touchy situation.

So he’s doing Cold Collective, he’s struggling, Gus had told me he was going to rehab and he’s had all these issues. We made a documentary a few years ago called “Survival of the Film Freaks”, which is a documentary about cult movies and kind of how technology and stuff comes into that. And I asked him if we could use a Cold Collective song in one of the video montages and he was all for it, he was really rad about it. So afterwards I was like “Hey, listen, let’s document the making of the next Cold Collective record.” And I knew he was coming out of rehab and I’m like “let’s make this documentary about how, through all your problems and your issues, like music is what your higher power is.” And that comes up in the documentary a couple of times. Then, you know, he ended up passing away. Like we had talked a weekend before he passed away and we were going to start this documentary short about him and that wasn’t able to happen. And so I decided fairly quickly that we wanted to make this documentary about him because Transit was a pretty big band, people cared about him. We saw the outpouring of support when he passed away at his services, all the different publications that posted stuff, and people were really upset to lose him. So the process of making it was extraordinarily difficult because I’d been able to rekindle this friendship with a dude that I hadn’t really seen a lot; it’s the single most difficult thing I’ve ever ever worked on, but it’s also like been the most rewarding thing that I ever worked on because I was able to get to learn so much more about him through the interview process, talking to people that were with him at times that I wasn’t. But it was incredibly difficult, like I couldn’t edit, my production partner, Kyle, had to edit it. I was like “I can’t continue to relive this stuff, it’s just too much.”

So you’ve done documentaries before that are kind of similar subject matter-wise to this, I’m thinking of the one with War on Women, what would you say makes this different from the others, the personal connection you’ve got here?

Yeah, absolutely, me being so connected to the story. With the War on Women doc, like, I had met Shawna before and I knew her, but that was more of a respect thing, I respect what you’re doing, I would like to be able to share it with more people. But this was 100% a personal thing. So many of the people that are in the documentary are people that I’ve been friends with for like over 20 years, like I’ve known Jay Maas for over 20 years. These guys are some of my best friends for forever at this point. So I was able to really kind of connect to it so much closer than anything else I’ve worked on. I can’t imagine having a connection with any other film I would ever make like this. 

What was the timetable for this, from when you kind of decided you’re making this to how long filming took to kind of where we’re at now?

All right so Tim passed away in February of 2019. We pretty quickly, from that point, decided that we were going to do this. We didn’t make any type of announcement or anything for about a year, we locked down some interviews before ever announcing anything. The interview we did with Frank Turner was actually the first interview that we did. We sat with Will from The Story So Far that Summer and I filmed probably like 10 or so interviews in that first year before we ever made any type of announcement that we were going to do it. Then we launched an Indiegogo campaign in March of 2020. I’m not sure if that time period sounds familiar to anybody, but we launched a campaign and I think six days, if I’m not mistaken, after we launched the campaign, COVID hit, the world shut down and we were then kind of trying to figure out what to do. So we finished the campaign during COVID, we reached the goal we wanted to reach. We were able to get some of the equipment we wanted to get with it, but then we couldn’t do anything with it because we couldn’t go anywhere for, what ended up being what, like a year, year and a half. So it took another year, year and a half before we got going. We ended up cutting a bunch of stuff that we wanted to keep, a trip to go to Florida where we were going to meet with a number of people. We were going to go to California and meet with a number of people. So, we get through COVID, we finished the principal filming, and then we edited probably for another year or so. We had the score done, Gus, who’s in the film and also in Cold Collective, did the score under his musical project, OK DOK. We also worked with the Cold Collective guys while they were making the record, Weathervane, which is the record they made after Tim passed away. All in all, it took us almost five years to completely finish everything. 

Okay, that was something I was curious about, how soon after his passing you were set on making this, it sounds like pretty soon.

Yeah, I was locked in man. Seeing how many people cared and how many people were genuinely devastated by the loss, we wanted to do this, not only for Tim’s memory, but also for Tim’s family because Tim’s family is amazing. But we wanted to do it for all those people that were feeling that loss. I wish we got it done quicker. 

So something I wanted to touch on was, coming from my perspective, I had heard of Cold Collective and Transit, but I wasn’t super familiar. I knew the name Tim Landers and I remember his passing. But I was never super familiar with anything to do with his story or his music. And so seeing interviews from Frank Turner and from the guy from The Story So Far, like that was a cool bridge for people who may not be super familiar with him, but know these other names. It gave a good scope on how impactful this was.

So Frank and Tim had met a number of times through just like touring and playing different festivals and stuff. They weren’t like buddies or anything like that, but they knew each other. They had done that video that was taped at Bamboozle together where they played that Blink 182 cover. But he always knew what Tim had going on and Transit was on their skyrocket up when Frank was kind of just getting into doing what he was doing. Like that video of them helping Frank Turner out is hilarious to think about now because of how big Frank Turner has become since. Same thing with The Story So Far, if you go through the film and look at the flyers and stuff, like Transit’s headlining shows and A Story So Far is opening up for them. Like Man Overboard is opening up for them and Transit’s the headliner. And now all these bands have become like cultural pieces of that time period, they were all like obsessed with Transit, which is amazing to think about. 

When I was thinking through this interview, thinking about if even if Frank didn’t know Tim at all, I think it was a great point of view to throw in there just because Frank Turner’s kind of doing the extreme, I just talked to a buddy today who mentioned he’s trying to break the record for most shows in a 24-hour period. And he’s doing his 50 states in 50 days thing again. I think it was a great perspective to throw in there kind of showing how hard that kind of lifestyle can be on your body and how it can really open up yourself to addictions.

45 minutes to an hour and just everything the guy said was gold. That’s one of the toughest things about when you do a documentary like this, like you sit with everybody and everybody does like an extended interview. Like with The Story So Far, I’ve got an hour of footage and we only ended up using like two, two and a half minutes of footage of them just because that was the stuff that worked best.

So the audio recordings you had of Tim, not the musical recordings, but where you had excerpts of him talking about why he does music, what did you have to choose from for those, did you have a large pool of recordings or was that kind of difficult to fit in there?

Actually, it’s funny because we think about how it is now and how now there’s a million and five podcasts and there’s a million blogs and a million vlogs, every magazine has a website, every newspaper has a website, there’s all these things. Everybody has a phone at a show now, but if you think back to 2008, 2009, that was really in its infancy so there wasn’t nearly the amount of media to pull from in terms of video interviews or audio interviews and the stuff that we did have to pull from, really the quality wasn’t that great. It was actually pretty difficult to find good stuff that wasn’t just fluff pieces about like the new Transit record. That video with Jesse Cannon, which we used a lot of audio from in the movie, his stuff was great. We’ve got a few really good podcasts that had a really good sound and Tim had done an interview with me for my podcast before or right after Cold Collective’s EP single that had come out after the first record. He came into the studio and played a few songs and we did an interview. So we got some good stuff there too, I wish that we had more. I had, you know, a kind of vision when we started like Tim’s voice basically narrating the film, but we just didn’t have enough to do it. But I’m really happy with what we did have and we were lucky to have what we did because in that time period we might have potentially not had anything.

Is there anything you hope for people to get from this film, whether it be about addiction or just understanding who Tim was and the type of person he was, was there anything you’re hoping people walk away with from this film?

A few things, actually. First and foremost, knowing that Tim was an amazing person, a gifted songwriter, an incredibly, talented great person, good family. He was a family guy, loved his parents, loved his brothers and sisters, loved his girlfriend, just that he was a great dude. And also, if they didn’t know his music already, give his music a shot, take a listen to it. I personally think the Cold Collective is some of the best. I genuinely feel that way because I think the songs were just amazing.

But then there’s the other side of it too where everybody knows somebody that has struggled with addiction in some form, whether it’s opioids, alcohol, mental health issues, like everybody knows somebody. I think it sucks that everybody knows somebody, but Tim’s story is no different. I don’t feel like enough of those stories get told. One of the things we want to make sure is that if people see this film and they know somebody that’s struggling, that they know that people care about them and people want to be there for them. Tim was unable to defeat his demons, unfortunately, and that really sucks, but if somebody sees this and they identify that maybe somebody they know is having issues, struggling, they’re gonna check in, see how they’re doing, pay attention to the things that are going on if there’s behavior that they’re not sure if maybe this is an issue or not. So we want to make sure, it kind of sounds corny to say we don’t want anybody else to have to go through this again, but it’s true like nobody wants to see anybody struggle and nobody wants to see anybody succumb to addiction. I think we’re all so hyper-aware of all of these things in the world now, but if you go back to 2008, like people didn’t talk about mental health the way they do now. I think if Tim potentially had that, maybe ten years ago as opposed to struggling for a number of years and then trying to overcome it, it could have been a different situation. So it’s one of those where it’s a bummer, there’s nothing we can do about what’s happened in the past, but we can do our best to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

I totally agree, I think two of the most impactful parts of the film for me were, one, when it’s Tim’s dad’s talking and he kind of just brings up how he’s always kind of had a soft side for homeless people and people struggling because they’ve got parents, they’ve got brothers and sisters, and then, two, I think also having the mental health professional giving her thoughts on it, that was really valuable too.

So I was curious, with the record they ended up piecing together that kind of concluded the documentary, they touched on it a little bit, but how difficult was that? Just from the limited experience I have of recording, that seems impossible, getting that kind of professional quality from essentially demos.

It virtually was, but we were lucky. I shouldn’t say we, they were lucky, the Cold Collective members and Jay Maas who was the producer, they were lucky that Tim demoed everything a thousand times. He had tons of unreleased demos on his computer and he had all these different things he’d been working on and luckily they had been working on what that record was going to be in terms of what songs they wanted to include on it. And they also had a recording session in between one of his stints of rehab where they had kind of gotten, not finalized versions of songs, but like more finalized versions and so they had all those tracks and they had all his demos. Tim’s dad, Terry, let Paul, the drummer from Cold Collective, take Tim’s computer and they basically went through it. There’s a little bit of footage in the movie where they’re sitting around Jay’s console there and they basically took all the stuff that they thought they could use and kind of figured out what they wanted to do. Tim had different tracks for stuff, but we isolated the stuff we could use and then took out the stuff that we couldn’t. We had a lot of vocals and a lot of guitars of Tim’s and then basically the rest of the band kind of came in and recorded the guitar tracks and drums. It was a daunting process for sure and I’ve got like seven or eight hours of footage of them in the studio working on that record, which is only a fraction of the time they actually put into it.

That blew my mind hearing the quality, the vocal quality, that they were able to get from demos.

From talking to you, I can tell this isn’t a money thing, that that’s not the goal with this. What would make this a success to you from a reception standpoint, like is there something that could happen after this release that you would make you consider it a success? Or do you already consider it a success?

I consider it a success already because when we did a private friends and family screening, Tim’s dad Terry flew up to Massachusetts for it because they don’t actually live here anymore, they moved out of state. We showed it to friends and family and at the end of the screening, I went up to kind of do my little Q&A thing and Terry just gets up on stage and gives me a huge hug and he’s like “you guys fucking killed it”. So no matter what happens from here on, that moment with him was worth the five years of struggle, worth every minute put in editing it, everything we had to do. So it’s a success to me no matter what because of that, because of what it means to his family to be able to have this now. But the other side of that is, I want people to see it, every film festival that will take it, down the road when we get it on streaming, every person that wants to take a watch. I want people to remember him and people to listen to his music and fire it up on streaming. Maybe we get a swell, maybe Rise will repress the Transit records. I just want Tim to be remembered and I want people to listen to his music and just realize how special of a person he was.

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