I’m pretty excited about this one, gang. Jason Cruz and Howl are about to release their very long-awaited sophomore album, Wolves! The Strung Out frontman’s outlaw folk project are slated to release the record this spring on a new label known as Liars Club, a collaboration founded by the inimitable Amigo the Devil and indie […]
I’m pretty excited about this one, gang. Jason Cruz and Howl are about to release their very long-awaited sophomore album, Wolves! The Strung Out frontman’s outlaw folk project are slated to release the record this spring on a new label known as Liars Club, a collaboration founded by the inimitable Amigo the Devil and indie powerhouse Regime Music Group. Wolves will serve as the follow-up to the band’s debut record, Good Man’s Ruin, which somehow came out nine years ago (and has been in constant rotation in yours truly’s collection ever since).
What’s even better is that we get to debut the video for the lead single, “Good Hands”! Here’s what the band’s frontman, the one-and-only Jason Cruz, had to say about the track.
This track is definitely the most ‘polished’ song on the album. I actually threw it in the trash at one point, because I had re-wrote and tweaked it so many times. Eventually it turned out to be one of the best songs on the record.
Astute viewers will notice that Howl features a retooled lineup that now includes Cruz supported by Chad Kulengoky on lead guitar, Jason Nielson on bass and Kris Comeaux on drums. Here’s what Cruz had to say about the new record:
This record was born of loss. Before the pandemic, I had lost my best friend and bass player, Chris Stein, to cancer. It took me years to start writing a new Howl record again. This new record is a reflection of me not being afraid anymore. I’ve always tried to be that way when it comes to art and music, but with Wolves I felt more free than I ever had before and just embraced it. This album is a reminder nothing ever really dies; it just turns to something else. Sometimes pain can help fuel you creatively, and in turn, guide you out of the darkness. Wolves is a record of healing, taking chances, and a new beginning.
Check out the video for “Good Hands” below, and after you’ve given it a few spins with the volume way up, check out pre-order options here.
You can also stream the Liars Club reissue of Good Man’s Ruin down below if the spirit moves you (as well it should)!
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 InvitingLight, 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.
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.
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*)
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, 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!
The fourth album can be a bit of a curious point on a band’s timeline. The dreaded “sophomore slump” has long been in the rearview, and generally by the time the fourth album roles around, a band is at or around the decade mark in their career. It can be a time of transition; a […]
The fourth album can be a bit of a curious point on a band’s timeline. The dreaded “sophomore slump” has long been in the rearview, and generally by the time the fourth album roles around, a band is at or around the decade mark in their career. It can be a time of transition; a time to build off some old influences and also to incorporate new feelings and directions out of a desire to keep from getting stale or repetitive. Sometimes, the results can be ground-breaking, at least sonically if not always commercially or critically. Ignorance Is Bliss by Face To Face, for example. Darkness On The Edge Of Town. No Code. Sandinista!. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Life Won’t Wait. Question The Answers. ZOSO, or however that translate without the ability to add runes to the text here. So on and so forth.
And so here we find The Interrupters. The widely beloved LA-based ska punk band are back with In The Wild, due out August 5th on Hellcat Records. Recorded during the forced doldrums that were the shutdown of the last couple of years, the album finds the band (which surpassed the decade mark during said shutdown) building on the high-energy, rock-steady core that they’ve built over the course of three records and hundreds of shows, revealing a work that is their most varied, most introspective, and, subsequently, their best effort to date.
We caught up with the band’s air-tight rhythm section, sensational twin brothers Jesse (drums) and Justin (bass) Bivona to talk about the album’s recording and its personal nature. While much of the process for In The Wild was similar to the band’s previous output, there were a few marked differences that shaped the direction of what was to come. As Jesse explains the fourth album cycle, “one of our little press points about this record and relating it to the previous records is that the first album is kind of like a first date, where you just talk about surface-level things, nothing too crazy. Second album, you start to let them know a little more about you. Third album, you’re kinda getting into the nitty-gritty. Fourth album, all the baggage is out, the drama is revealed, all the secrets are out.”
The secrets are indeed out in more ways than one on In The Wild. It is by far the band’s most personal album to date, and it’s their most sonically diverse album to date, and both of those things are by design. Thinking back to the early days of the band, specifically around the recording of the band’s self-titled 2014 debut record, Jesse describes that the band was “just trying to keep it simple. We weren’t trying to reinvent anything, we were just trying to be a straight-ahead ska-punk band.” The more cohesive the band god, the more layered and textured the sound became, and the more outside influences began to creep in. While still very much an Interrupters record, In The Wild showcases sounds that include traditional reggae and rock steady and 2-tone and 80s punk rock and ‘50s doo-wop. The album closes with “Alien,” which centers around Aimee’s soaring, heartfelt vocals and is, as Jesse points out, “the first Interrupters song with no guitar on it!”
The seeds of In The Wild were initially sown in the early days of the pandemic shut down two years ago. The very early days. In fact, quite literally, the first day. The band had taken a few weeks off after wrapping a lengthy touring cycle for their 2017 album Fight The Good Fight – an album that continued the band’s launch into a higher stratosphere based in part on the crossover success of the single “She’s Kerosene” – in February, and was planning to return to Tim Armstrong’s studio in early March to begin work on album four. That plan was foiled just as it was beginning. “Day one of us going into the studio,” explains bass player Justin Bivona, “was that day where the NBA was canceling, and Tom Hanks had Covid…” After a few ‘wait and see’ days, recording plans – and, frankly, most of real life – got put on pause indefinitely, and the band retreated to what they affectionately refer to as The Compound; Justin and Jesse live in one house while the twins’ bandmates and, more importantly, older brother and sister-in-law Kevin and Aimee, live in the house next door. The two houses share a driveway and, more importantly, a garage, the latter of which would come in handy in a pandemic shutdown.
After some time spent doing what the rest of us did – binge-watching TV shows and movies, going for walks, and reflecting on their lives-to-date. As Justin tells it, that process “Aimee got to do a lot of looking back on her past and realized there was a lot of stuff she hadn’t written songs about.” And so even though the band had plenty of material they were going to work on in the studio at the beginning of 2020, writing eventually continued.
So, too, did recording, though the band didn’t have to go far. “At some point during (quarantine),” explains Justin, “Kevin was like “we need to do this record at our house, in our garage.” It’s a tiny 10×20 room that we would practice in, but it wasn’t treated, there wasn’t any studio equipment. So we spent maybe a month building things. Me and Jesse with power tools building racks to put gear in and tabletops and stuff. Pretty much “tiny housing” the studio to make every part of it work.”
This created the freedom to work together at their own pace. There’s no need to reserve studio time or book an engineer when you can do it all, effectively, in your collective backyard. That moved Kevin, the elder statesman of the Bivona brothers, officially into the producer’s seat. Tim Armstrong, who both oversees Hellcat Records and executive produced the first three Interrupters records, “told (Kevin) to just grab the reins and take off” says Justin, with Jesse quick to point out that their big brother has “always kinda been the shadow producer of everything in a sense.”
And while it may seem daunting to have your bandmate – and older brother, steering the ship, the timeline and the setting and their relationship made for a smooth, collaborative effort. “If we’re working on something and it’s not working,” explains Jesse, “all four of us can be like ‘well, what if we try this, or what if we try this,’…there are no bad ideas until you try (something and realize it’s bad.” “It was just us as a cohesive band, the four of us, working out songs and writing songs, and it really informed the process,” adds Justin. “It was the best thing we’ve ever done.”
The more that writing and recording continued, the more that the direction of the album revealed itself. “Aimee realized that the record was pretty much her life story,” says Jesse, adding “so the songs that didn’t fit with that theme we pushed aside and focused on the ones that told her story the way she wanted to tell it.” Because the lyrics bare so much of Aimee’s past, the task of recording vocals involved being in the right headspace to tackle some of the memories that were evoked. “Doing on the property,” reveals Justin, “it allowed Aimee the freedom to record vocals whenever she felt emotionally connected enough to a song” to power through it, a freedom that proved vital as it is apparent on first listen that Aimee dug deep lyrically, reflecting on some of the messier parts other upbringing and past relationships and grief and loss and trauma and mental health struggles that she has worked on over the years.
The added time and convenience of the recording process allowed the band to work through multiple versions of songs, in order to make sure that the emotion of the music matched the emotion of the lyrics. “There are a couple songs on this record where they were recorded one way and pretty much done,” explains Justin, “but then it wasn’t just fitting in with the rest of it when we would get back there. I think specifically “Love Never Dies” had a totally different feel, it was more of a rock/reggae Clash-y song. And it was dope, but it wasn’t fitting in with everything.” Jesse elaborates: “(Kevin) said “Jesse, play a one drop” so I played this one drop, and then he said “Justin, play this bass line” (*mimics bassline*). And then he said “okay, watch” and he just started skanking, and then he started singing this melody the way that it is now, and we played that for like four bars and just stopped. We were like “yeah, that’s it! Now we’re on to something!”
The result is one of the more straight-forward reggae songs in the Interrupters’ catalog to date. It also features a guest appearance from The Skints, the UK reggae punk band who recently wrapped a successful run opening a bunch of US shows for The Interrupters and Flogging Molly. The Skints are just one of an impressive handful of guest starts that found their collective way onto In The Wild; Tim Armstrong lends his vocal talents to a track, as per usual, but so too do Rhoda from The Bodysnatchers and Alex and Greg from third-wave ska legends Hepcat. The latter recording session occurred at Armstrong’s studio once the initial Covid waves had subsided and society started to open up again. As Jesse tells it, “it was a magical session to be a part of.” Justin explains “Greg and Alex came in and…we wanted them on the song (“Burdens”), but we didn’t really have the part. We went in with them and showed them the song and within a minute the two of them are sitting there writing the parts and figuring it out together. It was so cool to see because they’re literally our favorite ska band.”
It was yet another moment in a decade-long journey that has found the foursome feeling eternally grateful for the opportunities they’ve been presented; playing with longtime idols like Rancid and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Joan Jett and Green Day, playing legendary venues, getting introduced by RuPaul on the Jimmy Kimmel show (as was the case the night before we spoke). Case-in-point: the three Bivona brothers served as the backing band for The Specials during a fundraiser event in Los Angeles back in February, a mind-blowing moment that got overshadowed by the fact that a mini Operation Ivy reunion brokeout pre-set as Jesse Michaels and Tim Armstrong joined for a cover of the Op Ivy classic “Sound System,” an event that damn near broke the punk rock internet. The gravity of those situations is not lost on the band, by any stretch. “The moment that starts getting old is the moment that you’ve gotta start packing it in and figuring out what 9-to-5 (job) you want,” says Jesse.
Keep scrolling to read our full Q&A with the Bivona twins, Jesse and Justin. Pre-orders for In The Wild are still available here. And check out the full list of upcoming Interrupters tour dates, including their European run and leg 2 of the US dates with Flogging Molly, right here.
(*Editor’s note: The text below has been slightly edited and condensed for content and clarity.*)
JS: First and foremost, congratulations on another successful appearance on Kimmel!
Justin: Thank you!
JS: So this is probably then the second coolest thing you’ve done this week…
Justin: For real though, it is good to see your face!
JS: Is that the third time now on Kimmel?
Jesse: Nope, two! Four years ago we did “She’s Kerosene.”
Justin: Almost four years ago to the day. It was like July 26th.
JS: Man, how time has flown. The Kimmel show seems like it’s a cool one to do because the audience is right there, versus some of the other late-night shows where they’re sitting back and you’re kinda playing to the cameras as much as anything. That seems like a cool one.
Jesse: Yeah, they make it seem like it’s an indoor club show,
Justin: Which is really cool.
Jesse: It’s really cool. And the whole staff and crew there is excellent. They’re very nice. We had a GOOD time yesterday.
JS: And you got to hang with RuPaul, that’s pretty cool!
Justin: He’s super nice too!
Jesse: So nice!
Justin: An old punk rocker and a big ska fan too!
JS: I had no idea!
Jesse: Yeah, he played in a punk band in like the early 80s.
Justin: He loved The Selecter and The Specials.
JS: So then he’s totally going to dig your music, especially the new album!
Justin: He gave us the best soundbite! He just said “It’s time for some ska music, bitches!”
Jesse: We were on stage and just looked at each other like “WHOA!” (*all laugh*)
JS: Does that stuff ever get old? And I know I probably know the answer to that question, and actually I think I’ve asked Kevin and Aimee that sort of stuff before, but playing in massive crowds, playing in places like Fenway Park, playing for RuPaul on the Kimmel show…does that stuff ever get old?
JS: I feel like I knew that was the answer…
Jesse: The moment that starts getting old is the moment that you’ve gotta start packing it in and figuring out what 9-to-5 you want.
JS: When I started doing this Zoom interview thing during the early days of Covid, it was really to sort of check in with people. I was used to doing more phone interviews and then I’d type them up and write a story, but A) the website crashed so there was no publish things anymore for a while, but I liked the idea of actually chatting with people when they were in quarantine and we were in quarantine and you could see each other and stay connected. We’ve been in this weird situation for so long now that music that came out of quarantine is coming out commercially. That’s sort of the long way of getting into In The Wild, which is a really, really, really great album and I know I say that about each one that you guys put out, but the bar just keeps getting raised. So let’s talk about that process. When during lockdown did you realize “well, we’re not going to be out on the road for a while, and we’re not going to be able to go into a studio for a while, so fuck it, let’s do it ourselves”?
Justin: Here’s the thing. We finished the Fight The Good Fight album cycle tour in February of 2020. We ended in the UK with two amazing shows in London. The plan was to finish that and go home. Kev and Aimee were going to start writing for a couple weeks, and then we were going to go into the studio in March. Day, like, one of us going into the studio to record, was that day where like the NBA is canceling and Tom Hanks has Covid.
JS: Right! That’s when we really knew the world was ending!
Justin: Yeah! So we were going to go back in the next day, but everything started getting canceled, so we put the weekend on hold and then the next week on hold, and then the month, and everything just got shelved. So we were sitting at home, and couldn’t really do what our plan was. But it was nice at the same time, because we had just kept rolling for ⅞ years. There was no break. So we finally got to sit back and wait a little bit. We did the live record to give something to the fans during the break, and with that we did the documentary, This Is My Family, and put it all together as like a cohesive concert film. Kinda while we were doing that, we got to reflect on our past and Aimee got to do a lot of looking back on her past and realized there was a lot of stuff she hadn’t written songs about. At some point in the middle of that, Kevin was like “we need to do this record at our house, in our garage.” It’s a tiny 10×20 room that we would practice in, but it wasn’t treated, there wasn’t any studio equipment. So we spent maybe a month building things. Me and Jesse with power tools building racks to put gear in and tabletops and stuff. Pretty much “tiny housing” the studio to make every part of it work. And then they had some songs and we would just get in there the four of us with Kevin producing and work out these songs. It was a fun process because there were no outside distractions, there was no one else we had to worry about, it was just us as a cohesive band, the four of us, working out songs, writing songs, and it kind of really informed the process. It was the best thing we’ve ever done.
JS: So there was stuff written to be recorded back in March of 2020 when you first got off the road?
Jesse: Actually the one day that we did spend at the studio, we were working on the instrumental for “As We Live.” That was the only thing we recorded at Tim’s studio before everything got shut down.
Justin: I think they had “Alien” kind of on the docket, and “The Hard Way” was in there also.
Jesse: Yeah, they had done a few weeks of writing so there was a batch of songs. A lot of those songs got shelved because they didn’t fit the whole record idea. Once Kevin and Aimee started writing a lot, Aimee realized that the record was pretty much her life story. So the songs that didn’t fit with that theme we pushed aside and focused on the ones that told her story the way she wanted to tell it. We’re stoked on how the whole thing came out.
JS: How far into that writing process did the real direction of the album start to take shape, or at least when did she tell you that that was the direction that the album was going to go? And did that involve sit-down conversations…like, I know you’ve been family for a long time but that maybe there’s some shit she was going to sing about that’s a little…
Jesse: No, I think it happened kind of naturally, and it wasn’t until we had like
Both: Eighteen songs
Jesse: …that we were working on that it was like, okay, this batch is all very cohesive. I feel like we’re saying that word a lot? (*all laugh*)
Justin: It was a theme, you know?
Jesse: Yeah, and these other ones, they’re good, but they distract from the message we’re trying to send here and the themes we’re trying to talk about.
Justin: Yeah, once it was like, there’s all these songs (*gestures*) it was easy to look at the board and say, “well, these fourteen (go together).”
Jesse: And there was even a time where we weren’t completely…where we didn’t have like the last three figured out, and we dug up an old one, and once Aimee looked at it, it was like “actually, if I just rewrite these verses, this could fit.” That was “Worst For Me,” which was a sleeper favorite of mine. That song rips.
JS: That song is great, yeah!
Jesse: But it was on the back burner for months! It was just like, we recorded it and then we just forgot about it.
Justin: That was the other great thing about the process. We had so much time just sitting at home that they would finish a song and live with it for six months, then come back to it and say “oh, this song needs a bridge.” Then they would just write a bridge and it would bring the whole thing together. We’ve never really had the opportunity to sit and live with something and then come back to it and fix it. Usually in the studio, it’s like record it, it’s done…
Jesse: Go on tour, it’ll come out when you’re on tour. The most time we’ve ever had off in this band was maybe two months, right before Fight The Good Fight came out. And that wasn’t really time off, that was us preparing for the album cycle and the release and all that. So to be forced to sit on our hands during the pandemic, it helped a lot.
JS: What did you do otherwise to keep creative, musically or otherwise, to keep from getting into those doldrums when it seemed like the world was never going to open up and that sort of thing?
Jesse: You know, that’s a good question. We did what everybody did…binge-watched a lot of TV…
Justin: We did get to a point after the first few months where it was like, “okay, we’ve gotta go outside.”
JS: Touch grass.
Justin: Going to the beach, or going on hikes.
Jesse: Going on bike rides.
Justin: And we had a small quarantine bubble of friends that we trusted to come over, or we’d go over there. But other than that, it was a lot of TV…
Jesse: A lot of movies.
JS: Were you still playing music, even if it wasn’t Interrupters stuff, or did you just like put it away?
Jesse: It was always there. Our back room is always set up so we could always go back there and jam, but there was definitely a time…
Justin: There was definitely a three-month period where I didn’t touch a bass. (*all laugh*)
Jesse: Yeah, I was the same with drums.
JS: Is that the longest you’ve ever gone, since you started playing?
Justin: For sure.
JS: Was it interesting working with…I know you’ve worked with Tim (Armstrong) executive producing before but this is the first one where it was listed that Kevin was the producer of (the album). Does that change the dynamic when not only one of the four of you is producing it, but he’s also your brother and your band member? Does that impact the dynamic in the studio or have you been doing it with each other for so long now that you just know how it works?
Justin: Yeah, exactly. We’ve been doing this our whole life. We’ve always looked to Kevin for answers when we have questions about what we’re doing.
Jesse: He’s always kinda been the kind of shadow producer of everything, in a sense.
Justin: Yeah, so Tim gave him full rein…told him to just grab the reins and take off with it.
Jesse: The other thing about the way we work is we try everyone’s ideas, so we could be in the studio and it wouldn’t be like him saying “no, this is how it’s going to be, we have to do it this way.” If we’re working on something and it’s not working, all four of us can be like “well, what if we try this, or what if we try this.” And he’ll say “okay, let’s try it.” There’s no bad ideas until you try it and realize it’s bad, you know? It was very good. And we have such a great relationship and we’re very good at communicating, so there wasn’t any headbutting. It was very fun and very easy.
Justin: And again, doing it on the property, it allowed Aimee the freedom to record vocals whenever she felt emotionally connected enough to a song to sing the vocals.
JS: Especially on an album like this, that’s crucial.
Justin: Yeah! When you have studio time, you know you’ve got to be in there at 5pm and be there til 11pm.
Jesse: We’ve gotta bang out all these songs
Justin: And you’ve got to record these (specific things). That’s almost like a 9 to 5. This way, it was like, if we went back there and she was like “ah I don’t want to sing that right now, let me sing this one.” And also, if she got her second wind at 2am, she could just hop back there and record.
JS: Do you guys live close enough where it’s like “hey, it’s 2am but we’ve got an idea…”
Justin: We call it The Compound. In California technical terms, it’s a multi-family housing property, there’s one driveway, there’s two houses and a garage that we share, and a backyard. They live in the front house and we live here, so we’re right next to each other.
JS: It’s like being on tour while you’re at home!
Justin: I know, but with that being said, when we come home from tour sometimes, we don’t see each other for a whole week. (*all laugh*)
JS: Obviously it’s still early because this album’s not even out yet, but does that inspire you to kinda work that way going forward, now that you know that you can make an album like that in your little garage studio?
Jesse: Yeah I think so.
Justin: I think so, I mean…
Jesse: We haven’t really started thinking about the next one yet, but it is easy to just naturally fall into that. If we have to do a song for something, we can just hop back there and do it. So when we have something (to work on), it’s like “when do you want to work on that?” “I don’t know, tomorrow?” So we just hop back there and do it.
JS: How did the writing process work? Were there times when all four of you were writing together, or do Kevin and Aimee come up with the stem of the song and then you guys work on your rhythm parts? And does that ever change the direction of a song? Like if they start writing and a song has a certain feel, do they give you the freedom to say “hey, we think there’s a different feel that might go better with this song?” Because there are a lot of different feels on this album, and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes, but…
Justin: They would definitely have…it could be anything from the core idea of the song to an entirely fledged out song already, knowing how it should feel and what it should sound like. But, there are a couple songs on this record where they were recorded one way and pretty much done, but then it wasn’t just fitting in with the rest of it when we would get back there. I think specifically “Love Never Dies” had a totally different feel, it was more of a rock/reggae Clash-y song. And it was dope, but it wasn’t fitting in with everything.
Jesse: It didn’t age well.
Justin: It didn’t age well. So when we got back there with the four of us, we said “What do we do with this?” And Kevin said “what if did it more like a roots thing?”
Jesse: Yeah, he said “Jesse, play a one drop” so I played this one drop, and then he said “Justin, play this bass line” (*mimics bassline*). And then he said “okay, watch” and he just started skanking, and then he started singing this melody the way that it is now, and we played that for like four bars and just stopped. We were like “yeah, that’s it! Now we’re on to something!”
Justin: And then we finished it and we were like “dude, we gotta get The Skints on this one.”
Jesse: We built up this track, sent it to The Skints, and they sent us back a whole bunch of stuff that we kept. They’re fantastic.
JS: I was going to ask if all the guests got recorded in studio with you too. Obviously they didn’t if The Skints recorded their own stuff. People haven’t heard the album yet but obviously, Tim’s on a song because Tim’s gonna be on a song. Rhoda from Bodysnatchers, Alex and Greg from Hepcat, obviously Billy Kottage, the fifth Interrupter. Shoutout to Billy Kottage, the pride of Dover, New Hampshire.
(*Justin adjusts camera, revealing Billy Kottage sitting on the couch in the corner!)
Both: He’s right there!
JS: That’s awesome! I don’t think we’ve ever met in person, but Billy and I are both from the State of New Hampshire, so I always think that’s awesome.
Justin: When he comes out here, he pretty much lives with us.
JS: That’s great. There aren’t many of us in New Hampshire, the scene wasn’t very big, so when someone from the Granite State is cool and does cool things, I love it. So shoutout to Billy Kottage. So yeah, did they all record with you?
Jesse: It was all different. The Skints did it on their own in England, Rhoda recorded her vocals on her own at her place back in England.
Justin: (For) Hepcat, we actually went into Tim’s studio for a day.
Jesse: Which was great!
Justin: Greg and Alex came in and it was just one of the most fun days. That’s the thing, we went in to have them record on the song not knowing…Kevin didn’t really know what to have them do. We wanted them on the song, but he didn’t really have the part or anything. But we went in with them and showed them the song, and within like a minute, the two of them are sitting there going…
Both: “ooooh oooh” (*harmonizing*)
Justin: Like writing the parts, figuring it out together, it was so cool to see because they’re literally our favorite ska band.
Jesse: It was a magical session to be a part of. They were sitting there laughing…
Justin: ..having a good time…
Jesse: …singing all the right notes. It was awesome. We did that at Tim’s studio. Tim also did his vocals at his studio. That was later in the process, where things were a little more comfortable, where we could actually travel to a studio and not worry about everything. And then also, we had a guest vocalist on “Alien.” It’s this guy named Arnold, who is a friend of Tim’s and a friend of Brett Gurewitz’s. When we were working on that song, I think it was Tim’s idea, he was like “Arnold’s voice would sound great on this,” and we were like “let’s give it a shot!” So we had Arnold come in and he sang all those background vocals, and he’s got this emotionally delicate approach to his vocals that just lifted that song to another level.
JS: That song is something else…
Jesse: First Interrupters song with no guitar.
JS: Right! That’s actually a thing I wanted to ask about. There’s so many different directions! Obviously you’ve always played on a lot of different influences, but I feel like with this album, you go deeper into the reggae thing, into the 2-Tone thing, and then “Alien” which is unlike anything else in the Interrupters catalog. What made you take the freedom to just kinda go with that. Is that stuff that’s always kinda been in the arsenal but maybe you didn’t want to go too deep on the first few records, but now that everyone’s along for the ride it’s like, “well, let’s push that.”
Jesse: Maybe a little bit of that, but also, it is more that the songs were telling us how we should play them, so to speak. So the way that that song was written, there was never really another way to approach it. That song went through a lot of different versions – not crazy different versions but it was layered up with heavy guitars at one point…
Justin: It was kind of like The Beatles’ “Oh Darling” at one point, where it was like rocking…
Jesse: There were heavier drums on it at one point. It went through a bunch of stages.
Justin: But the emotion wasn’t there. Aimee fought really hard to bring it back to what it should be.
Jesse: What served the song better.
Justin: And that involved one day just pulling it up and being like “take the guitar off, take that off, take that off”…it got down to literally just the drum beat and the string arrangement.
Jesse: Even cutting a whole outro and just being like “no, the song should end right there.”
Justin: And then also with “My Heart,” which is also kind of a different…
Jesse: That “doo-woppy” 50s feel.
Justin: She had already had the melody and was singing it and I was like “well, it’s gonna be in 3, and it’s gonna have this rock feel.” Even if we tried to make it in 4 as a ska song or a reggae song, it just wasn’t working. So the way those songs were written informed the styles. And at this point, we’ve kind of realized that no matter what style it is, if it’s me and Jesse and Kevin playing and Aimee singing, it’s going to sound like The Interrupters. Us just believing in ourselves and pushing it forward that way really helped the process.
JS: When there’s an album I’m really excited about, I try to ignore a lot of the singles and just listen to the album all the way through because, I don’t know, I’m in my 40s and that’s the way we did it when we were kids, right? So I listened to it all the way through and I took notes and next to “My Heart” I wrote “whoa, an Interrupters doo-wop song.” It’s very much an Interrupters song still, but it’s got that sort of 50s diner, doo-wop vibe to it. Which I think is awesome, and it’s cool to see elements like feature in the mix but still be an Interrupters track.
Justin: Thank you!
Jesse: Yeah, initially that was one where we were like “let’s just play like The Ramones would play in 3.” So it was real heavy, but it didn’t serve the song well.
Justin: So dial back a little bit.
JS: I think people are going to dig that song.
Jesse: I think that’s my favorite song on the album.
Justin: Specifically behind the scenes with that song, Aimee had a service dog named Daisy for 13 years, who passed away in 2018. It was like her little girl, and it was devastating when she passed away. She wrote that song about her, and not even just the first time but the first few times I heard it, I couldn’t keep it together. I’d cry every time.
Jesse: Yeah, because when we worked it out in the studio, we just had the choruses, singing “my heart keeps beating, my heart keeps beating…” so that pretty much informed the drum beat just being a heartbeat. And then a couple weeks later when they updated the Dropbox with the verses and said “listen to this,” me and Justin were both sitting right here in our living room with our earbuds on and we’re both just like crying. Like, oh my god this is so emotional, because we all lived with Daisy, she was fantastic. She was a German shepherd/wolf, and we all still miss her a lot. That was a heavy one.
JS: Have you been able to play a lot of this stuff live yet, or are you waiting until the album is out?
Jesse: On the Flogging Molly tour we just did, we were only doing “Anything Was Better” and “In The Mirror,” and then when we dropped “Jailbird” we started doing that. The plan is to play as much of it as possible.
Justin: We tried a few of them at soundcheck on occasion.
Jesse: Yeah, we’d always screw around at soundcheck and be like “do you guys know ‘Kiss The Ground,’ let’s try that”
Justin: Or “Raised By Wolves”
Jesse: But we’re in rehearsals next week for a few days to work on stuff for the European tour, because that’s when we’ve gotta do longer sets, but the plan is to try to learn the whole record.
JS: I think people are going to dig a lot of it. I was just curious about if you’d throw a curveball song like that at people before they’ve heard the album to see what the response is. Because I feel like “In The Mirror” is one of those songs that the first time you hear it, you go “yup, that one’s a classic. That’s going to get the crowd whipped up.” Do you know when you’re writing a song like that that it’s going to be “the one.” Like “She’s Kerosene” was like that. The very first verse when I first heard it, I remember going “well, that’s gonna be a big hit.”
Jesse: When we’re working on it in the studio, I think we’re so lost in the process that we don’t give songs that sort of focus, like “that’s going to be the single, this is going to be the hit.” But there was a point when we were doing “She’s Kerosene” that we had Mr. Brett come in and he was listening to stuff and he when he heard “Kerosene,” he had his little notepad and he was just like “hit.” And we all just looked at each other like “Whoa! Really?”
Justin: We thought there was so much more work to be done with that song and when he gave it that check of approval, we were like “alright, we don’t have to do much more to it.” That was cool. But then also for this record, when there was like 18 or 20 songs, “In The Mirror” was a standout, at least for me. I was like “I think that one is really good.” Then as it dwindled down, it was like “In The Mirror” and “Raised By Wolves” as the top two. They’re different enough, one’s ska, one’s sort of heavy rock, and you’re just like these two are the shining examples of the record and what we’re trying to sound like.
Jesse: And “In The Mirror,” Kevin and Aimee wrote that song ten years ago. That was one that wasn’t written specifically for this record. But when they were doing the inventory for the record, Aimee was like “we should dig this one up, this is a great one.” I remember when we were trying to work that one out in the room as a four-piece, I feel like it was a more difficult one to get away from the demo version, because I’ve been listening to that song for ten years. There is a demo recording of it – it’s not even a demo, it’s a full fledged-out different version of it. And having that ingrained in your brain and trying to get away from it and being like “alright, how would The Interrupters do this,” that was an interesting process. There was definitely a day where I was like “that song’s not going to make the record, we have so many other songs.” (*all laugh*) Obviously, I was wrong, that song rips.
Justin: But it’s wild too, because they wrote it ten years ago. From that time, that’s when they wrote “Easy On You,” “Gave You Everything,” and then “In The Mirror” was in that batch.
Jesse: “Love Never Dies” was in that batch.
Justin: Yup, “Love Never Dies.” I think now if we’re recording, it’s like “hey what else wasfrom that time period? What else did you write then? Anything else we can dig up?” There was some gold.
JS: It’s interesting to hear that it’s from that time period. As I was driving around this morning for work, I listened to the first album and this one back-to-back, because they come out on the same day; the new one comes out on the 8th anniversary of the first one, so I thought it would be cool to listen to them back-to-back. And, I loved the first album when it came out, but it is startling how far you guys have progressed as a band in eight years.
JS: And so to listen to them back-to-back, obviously you can kinda see how ended up here, but at the same time, you’ve progressed so far. So it’s really interesting that that song, in particular, is from that batch.
Jesse: So, one of our little press points about this record and relating it to the previous records is that the first album is kind of like a first date, where you just talk about surface-level things, nothing too crazy. Second album, you start to let them know a little more about you. Third album, you’re kinda getting into the nitty-gritty. Fourth album, all the baggage is out, the drama is revealed, all the secrets are out. That is kind of where we are with this. And talking about the recording of the first record, we were just trying to keep it simple. We weren’t trying to reinvent anything, we were just trying to be a straight-ahead ska-punk band.
Justin: We did like twenty-four instrumentals in three days. Some of them didn’t have any lyrics or anything, we just got the music done. The ones that didn’t have any lyrics done, they just wrote to the instrumentals. There was no going back to redo parts, it was just like “this is it, we’re done.”
Jesse: And keep it simple. Like, for me on drums, it was like “don’t do any crazy fills, just keep it straight, keep it steady.”
Justin: Which is wild, because some of my basslines, I play so many notes! Why did they let me do that?!? (*all laugh*)
JS: Yeah, but they work, and as somebody who wanted to be a bass player when he grew up, I like that they let you play all the notes! …. Thanks for doing this. This was fun. I talked to Kevin and Aimee for I think the first three records, so it’s nice to talk to you guys. It’s been a while!
Jesse: Yeah we’re being let off the leash a little bit. (*all laugh*)
JS: Well and that’s good, you should be. It’s fun that you guys have your own language with each other, and I know that that’s talked about in other places, like the documentary. So it’s perfect that you guys ended up as a rhythm section, and you end up doing this. Is that why you ended up as a rhythm section?
Jesse: Yeah, kinda. It kinda happened naturally. I don’t remember if we talked about it in the movie, but Kevin started out as a drummer. We had a drum set in the house because our dad was a producer and worked with his friends. So there was a drum set always in the house and Kevin gravitated toward that at an early age. But then, one day our dad came home with a guitar and a bass. So Kevin grabbed the guitar, and I was already dicking around on the drums, so then the only thing left over was the bass. So then naturally it was like “well, this is your instrument, this is your instrument…” And then we would just jam as little kids. There’s some video in that documentary but there’s a LOT more video when we were like 7 years old and Kevin is like 9 of us just trying to play like Green Day songs and Blink 182 songs
Justin: Sublime songs.
Jesse: Yeah, Sublime songs! Whatever we were hearing on the radio is what we were trying to play. The crazy thing is that we’ve come full circle and we know a lot of the people we were trying to emulate and we’re lucky enough to call them friends.
Justin: Some are like family.
Jesse: Yeah, some are like family now. It’s been a crazy, crazy life that we don’t take for granted.
Justin: They always say don’t meet your idols but...
Jesse: …we’ve never had a bad experience when we’ve met our idols.
Justin: I couldn’t tell you one person that I had looked up to that I met and they ruined it for me. Everyone’s been amazing.
JS: You know what, I’ve got to say almost the same thing. The amount of people that I’ve gotten to know through doing this for…well, The Interrupters started in 2011 and I started with Dying Scene in 2011. You’re one of the bands that came out right when I was getting started with this whole thing so it’s been a fun sort of parallel, but there’s only a small, small handful of people where you go “wow, that guy’s kind of a dick.” Everybody else has been super cool and super rad and supportive of each other. Especially those people that we grew up listening to in the late 80s and the 90s. It’s a pretty good, supportive group.
Justin: It is, it is. Even when we just started out, to tour with Rancid was amazing, but then to go on and get Rhoda from The Bodysnatchers, we get Horace and Lynval and Terry from The Specials love us. It’s just insane. To have that mutual respect and to get it back is just…yeah…it’s mind-blowing.
Jesse: We did a charity show back in February where we were backing The Specials. I was the drummer of The Specials for a night. We did the whole set, like twelve songs. Justin played piano, Kev played guitar.
Justin: You saw that thing where we played with Tim and Jesse Michaels and did the Op Ivy song?
JS: Yeah, yeah. That was amazing.
Justin: That was the same event. That one song with Jesse was amazing but it overshadowed the fact that we played in The Specials! (*all laugh*)
Jesse: It was just mind-blowing.
JS: Yes! Everyone kinda lost it with the Jesse thing but yeah, that’s awesome. Just awesome.
Jesse: And just being able to sit in a room for a week with Terry and Horace; Lynval got sick so he couldn’t come out, but just to sit there and run the songs with them was mind-blowing.
JS: I’m glad this stuff keeps happening to you, because you certainly deserve it.
Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl; new releases, reissues… you name it, we got it. So kick off your shoes, pull up a […]
Greetings, fellow degenerates! Welcome to the latest installment of the Dying Scene Record Radar. If it’s your first time here, thank you for joining us! This is a weekly column where we cover all things punk rock vinyl; new releases, reissues… you name it, we got it. So kick off your shoes, pull up a chair, crack open a cold one, and break out those wallets, because it’s go time. Let’s get into it!
Let’s start this week of with a banger 💥 Propagandhi‘s Supporting Caste is being reissued on pink colored vinyl thanks to an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign. Back in print for the first time in seven years! Head over to their Bandcamp page to get in on the action.
Another huge drop we let you know about earlier this week is Fat Wreck reissuing four 2000’s era Strung Out records on colored vinyl. The Element of Sonic Defiance, An American Paradox, and Exile in Oblivion are back in print for the first time in a long time. Blackhawks Over Los Angeles finds itself on wax for the first time ever. These are very limited, and most of the colored LPs have already sold out. Head over to the label’s webstore for the leftover scraps and black vinyl.
Those who read last week’s Record Radar know that NOFX has finally launched colored vinyl pre-orders for their upcoming LP Double Album. Well, much to the dismay of you collector nerds, a new “golden green” variant (it just looks green to me 🤷) has popped up on some European retailers’ sites. This is the EU indie exclusive color variant – here is one of the many places you can get it.
Newbury Comics has some new exclusive color variants of the self-titled debut albums from both The Interrupters and PUP (coincidence? most likely, yes). Each of these pressings are limited to 500 copies. Visit their store to get your hands on them.
Florida pop-punk veterans New Found Glory have a new acoustic record on the way. The 14-track LP titled Make the Most of It features seven new songs, and stripped-down versions of seven NFG classics. Check out the first single “Dream Born Again” below and get the wax here (green vinyl) or here (yellow vinyl). Or get both! I don’t give a shit, to be perfectly honest with you.
Bad Brains live album The Youth Are Getting Restless is back in print for the first time since its original release in 1990. This LP was recorded in the Netherlands in ’87. Zia Records and Brooklyn Vegan each have their own exclusive variant of this one. If you get it from Brooklyn Vegan, don’t forget to use their 10% off code – don’t be a sucker who pays 30 fuckin’ dollars for a record.
The Flatliners‘ latest album New Ruin makes its third(?) Record Radar appearance! The band has announced test pressings of the LP (limited to 15 copies! and it has some cool alternate cover art) will be on sale at Dine Alone Records‘ storefront in Toronto on Record Store Day Black Friday. More info here on how you can acquire one of these in exchange for Canadian dollars.
Speaking of Record Store Day Black Friday… have you heard Red Scare is reissuing Masked Intruder‘s debut album? Well, they are! And the only place you (maybe) can get a copy is your local record store on Black Friday (November 25th). The label usually throws a handful of copies of their RSD releases up on their webstore, too, but you didn’t hear that from me 😏
As I’m writing this, the Old Wives just announced a new record! Mega Low Maniac, the Edmonton punk band’s first album in five years, is due out in early December on Rad Girlfriend Records. Check out the first single “Me & Jack” below and go here to grab the LP.
Bringing up the rear on this week’s Record Radar is Neck Deep, with a reissue of 2014’s Wishful Thinking. Brooklyn Vegan, Newbury Comics, and Zia Records all have their own exclusive color variants of this one and they’re all ultra-limited and pretty and yada yada yada blah blah blah.
RECORD OF THE WEEK!
We here at Dying Scene are all about trying new things, so this week I’m challenging you, loyal reader, to listen to something new! This week’s Record of the Week comes from our friends at Punk Rock Radar (no affiliation with the Record Radar 😉) and Cat’s Claw Records. It’s a fucking awesome Split LP from Lookit, Martians! and The Cheap Pops. If you enjoy 90’s pop-punk even half as much as I do, this shit’s right up your alley. Check it out below, and pre-order the LP here (US) or here (EU).
And that’s all, folks! Another Record Radar in the books. As always, thank you for tuning in. If there’s anything we missed (highly likely), or if you want to let everyone know about a new/upcoming vinyl release you’re excited about, send us a message on Facebook or Instagram, and we’ll look into it. Enjoy your weekend, and don’t blow too much money on spinny discs. See ya next week!
*Wanna catch up on all of our Record Radar posts? Type “Record Radar” in the search bar at the top of the page!
It’s that time of year again where we search the recesses of our alcohol/drug addled brains in an effort to remember what albums we jammed out to the most this year. I for one, had a pretty hard time choosing as it seems that the the “Covid Logjam” finally started to break up and a […]
It’s that time of year again where we search the recesses of our alcohol/drug addled brains in an effort to remember what albums we jammed out to the most this year. I for one, had a pretty hard time choosing as it seems that the the “Covid Logjam” finally started to break up and a plethora of great music was released over the last twelve months. Regardless, I consulted with my Magic 8 Ball and whittled the field down to the final ten! I also included my recommended tracks for each album in a handy little playlist for your listening pleasure. So, without further doo-doo, here’s my picks for 2022 (in no particular order, because I don’t believe in order)! Happy 2023, comrades!
Craig’s Brother – Easily Won, Rarely Deserved – These melodic punks from Santa Cruz returned with new tunes in 2022 after a ten year hiatus and I couldn’t be happier. Plus, the thirteen track LP was released via People of Punk Rock Records, one of my new favorite labels!
Shrug Dealer – Infested – More melodic punk but this time from NYC! This album (released via Bypolar Records) was close to not making my list due to the fact that three of the eight tracks are really short (one clocks in at seven seconds) but the album in it’s entirety is just so damn good, I couldn’t leave it off.
Celebration Summer – Patience in Presence – These elder DC punks are relatively new but that doesn’t make their debut full length any less impressive. All eleven tracks are flawlessly performed and catchy as fuck. What else do you need form an album?
Sarchasm – Conditional Love – Although this East Bay pop punk trio personally attacked me by announcing this was their final album, I’m still including them in my list. All the feels that one can feel across a dozen elegantly written tracks. Now, someone please tell me they were only joking so I can get my life back in order!
Bob Vylan – Bob Vylan Presents The Price of Life – After 35 years of listening to punk rock, it can start sounding pretty repetitive. That’s why I love acts that step outside of the typical three chord, blistering fast rock sound that has come to define the genre. This duo from the UK epitomizes that ideology with this hip-hop/punk fusion gem.
Thick – Happy Now – No Top Ten List is complete without an awesome Garage-y Punk band and in 2022, this Brooklyn, NYC based trio scratched that itch for me. The thing that most garage bands are lacking is thoughtful writing. Not so with these ladies and that’s one of the (many) reasons the LP made my list!
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems – This album was perpetually on my rotation of albums I listened to throughout 2022 and because it was released so early in the year, it happened to be my most played new album of 2022! That fact alone automatically nets it a spot on the list but toss in some old school hardcore vibes and frenetic vocals and you got me hooked!
Upper Downer – No Refills Left – This LA based street punk act was one of the many (superb) new bands signed by SoCal super label Wiretap Records this year and they kicked off their tenure with their new label by releasing one hell of a banger! Aggressive, guttery, antiauthority-ism all wrapped up in a nice, pretty, little bow! Once again, Rob & Co. look like geniuses!
The Flatliners – New Ruin – Fat Wreck fan favorites, The Flatliners returned with their first new music since 2017 and I’m sure this latest LP made quite a few AoTY Lists because it harkens back to the early days of the group in it’s musicality and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
New Junk City – Beg a Promise – Ok, I know I said I didn’t list these albums in any particular order but this was probably my favorite album of the year. So much so that I couldn’t decide on which track to include in the playlist, so I added two. From start to finish, this one is a masterpiece. Excellent song writing with heartfelt, relatable lyrics, hooky choruses, extra shreddy guitars, these Atlanta punks are firing on all cylinders. If you aren’t already onboard, time to hop on this midnight train to Georgia.
Hello, friends! My name’s Dylan, but you might know me better as “Screeching Bottlerocket”. I write stuff for Dying Scene. I also write snide replies to your comments on our Facebook page. For some reason you’re supposed to care what my favorite albums released this year are (at least I think that’s why you clicked […]
Hello, friends! My name’s Dylan, but you might know me better as “Screeching Bottlerocket”. I write stuff for Dying Scene. I also write snide replies to your comments on our Facebook page. For some reason you’re supposed to care what my favorite albums released this year are (at least I think that’s why you clicked on the link). On the off chance that you do, in fact, care, here are my Top 10 Albums of 2022:
Remember how Duke Nukem Forever took like 20 fucking years to come out? This album’s kinda like that, except it doesn’t blow complete ass like Duke Nukem Forever. Cigar released their debut album Speed is Relative in 1999 and kinda just peaced out. Then they came back and released some demos of new songs… and kinda peaced out again. Then they signed to Fat, and we finally got this skate punk beast. They haven’t lost a step. This is a great record. For more eloquent analysis, read my full review here.
One of my favorite things about the revival of Dying Scene has been seeking out lesser known bands and, in turn, discovering some great albums nobody’s talking about. No Quarter‘s Fear and Loathing on the Pacific Highway is one of those albums. These Australians don’t fuck around. If you’ve got a hankering for fast, melodic, no frills skate punk, listen to this. “Long Distance” is the best song.
Two Australian bands. Band to back. What’s going on down under? Those Aussies make some great music! I like this Friends With the Enemy album a lot. These guys (and girl) have been around a long time, but this is by far the best thing they’ve ever done. I’m a sucker for riffy melodic punk, and that’s exactly what Divide & Conquer delivers. I reviewed this album, too, so you can read that here if you’d like.
Look, it’s another album I reviewed! Are you seeing a pattern here? Anywho…OFF! makes their triumphant return after eight years without releasing a new album. Keith Morris is one of the best do ever do it, folks. Their new drummer Justin Brown is pretty fucking awesome, too. This is OFF!’s best record.
After years of being a hardass about not listening to The Flatliners‘ non-ska output, I finally decided to give them a shot with New Ruin. And you know what? It’s a great album! I also went back and listened to Inviting Light, and you know what? That’s a great album, too! I’m usually not a fan of slower shit, but I’ll make an exception here. And on an unrelated note, I think New Ruin‘s cover art is really cool. Kinda reminds me of Insomniac.
Pulley has never released a bad album, and The Golden Life certainly doesn’t buck that trend. This is the veteran SoCal melodic punk band’s seventh LP, and their first with Sean Sellers of Good Riddance on drums. It’s not radically different from their previous output, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Pulley still kicks ass! (oh yeah, I reviewed this album by way).
In case my username isn’t a dead giveaway, Screeching Weasel is one of my all-time favorite bands. The Awful Disclosures of Screeching Weasel sounds a lot like First World Manifesto and Some Freaks of Atavism. And that’s a very good thing, because I love those records. I enjoy this album a lot as well. That’s why it’s in my Top 5 (and also why I gave it quite the positive review).
Alright, folks! We’re in the Top 3. No more fucking around. On the cusp of their 30th anniversary, Italian pop-punk mainstays The Manges released their best album ever. Book of Hate for Good People is a near perfect pop-punk record. “Lucky Tiger”, “Back to Bangkok”, “High On Stress”, “The Hate Parade”, “I’m Not A Sissy”, “Red Flags”… all bangers. If you have not listened to this, you’re a god damn idiot. Read my fuckin’ review, too, while you’re at it.
I thought I had my Top 10 list locked in about a month ago, then I found out The Windowsill had a new album coming out in December and I knew my list was about to be blown up. My fears were confirmed when I hit play on Focus for the first time. Dear lord, this album is incredible! I’ve listened to it at least once a day since it came out. This album deserves to be on a lot of Top 10 lists. Did I mention that I reviewed it? Because I did.
No Fun At All is one of the greatest skate punk bands of all time, in my opinion. Seventh Wave is the band’s seventh full-length album, and I think it’s one of their best. This is right up there with their 90’s output, rivaling classic records like Out of Bounds and The Big Knockover. NFAA never disappoints. Seventh Wave is easily my favorite album of 2022.
In case you didn’t already know, Less Than Jake‘s Roger Lima has a killer side project called Rehasher. They came through with a new single in the 11th hour of 2022. “Open Roads” is excellent. Shit sounds like Motorhead gone skate punk. How bout a new ‘Hasher record in 2023, Roger?
Megadeth – The Sick, The Dying… And The Dead!
I like Megadeth. This is a pretty good Megadeth album. I think Anthony Fantano gave it a bad review, but fuck that guy. Long live MegaDave!
What’s that? You thought I was done plugging my album reviews? Think again, motherfucker! I thoroughly enjoyed Dutch pop-punk band Florida Men‘s self-titled debut album, and gave it a glowing review. Perhaps you, too, will enjoy it.
2022 saw Canadian skate punks Handheld making a triumphant return with their first new album in 14 years. I had actually never heard of these guys before, but when I saw they were on Thousand Islands Records, I knew A Canadian Tragedy would probably be a good record. I was right!
The Bruce Lee Band – One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.
We’ve made it to the end of 2022, comrades! In some ways, it feels like it was long year. It was certainly a year that was chock-full of great releases, almost overwhelmingly so. In part, that’s because we’ve started to hear the fruits of the labors that songwriters and bands and artists cooked up while […]
We’ve made it to the end of 2022, comrades! In some ways, it feels like it was long year. It was certainly a year that was chock-full of great releases, almost overwhelmingly so. In part, that’s because we’ve started to hear the fruits of the labors that songwriters and bands and artists cooked up while they were in Covid-related lockdown. A lot of really talented people had a lot of time on their collective hands and had to get creative about how they wrote and recorded and released their material, and it was to all of our benefit.
And so here we go. The top 25 of 2022. You know the drill (at least you know MY drill): studio full-lengths only; no EPs or singles or live albums. All “punk rock,” although the older I get, the more I identify with the concept of punk rock being less about three chords and Les Pauls and Marshall stacks and more about and more about people making music that’s true and authentic and that doesn’t care about fitting into sonic boxes but does care about speaking truth to power and holding mirrors up to society. If you want a broader listen to the full scope of stuff I dug this year, that playlist is here. Without any further ado…
I don’t remember when Thick first came on my radar, but I’m glad they did. The Brooklyn-based trio followed up their dynamite 2020 album Five Years Behind with the even more dynamite Happy Now. It’s smart and it’s fun and it kicks you right in the teeth and it’s exactly the kind of record that I’m glad Epitaph got back to putting out.
If you haven’t put Bay Area art-punks Rip Room on your radar yet…what the heck are you waiting for?! Alight and Resound is their debut full-length and it’s killer. It’s got a real heavy 90s post-punk sort of vibe; think Fugazi meets Sleater-Kinney.
Michael Kane and The Morning Afters have been a staple in the Boston-area scene for a decade or so at this point. The lineup has solidified itself and the result of years of gigging and writing coalesced into Kane’s finest and most focused work to date. There are whispers of Petty and the Replacements and some old Boston street punk snarl.
I think No Trigger‘s last album, Tycoon, came out when I had only been with Dying Scene for like a year or so, and I think it was on like half the staff’s year-end best-of lists, and so I thought this would become a perennial thing. An effing decade later, the Worcester natives are back…and dare we say better than ever? Or at least weirder and more frantic and more diverse than ever, and that’s like the same thing. No wonder they’ve found a new home on Red Scare. This album takes a few listens to fully appreciate because there’s so much going on in it.
Bartees Strange first popped up on my radar when he appeared on Dave Hause’s Patty Smith covers EP, Patty, a couple years back. Strange’s sophomore full-length, Farm To Table, was released on 4AD this year and it’s as fun to listen to as it is hard to nail down genre-wise. It’s emo but it’s hip-hop but it’s R&B but it’s rock and roll, and it’s personal and it’s powerful and it feels important.
#20 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers – Nightroamer
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers went into the studio to record a brand new album and then, as it turns out, the world closed down for a while. That, coupled with the demise of their former label home, meant that this album took a little longer than many of us had hoped for to finally make its way to our ears. The wait was well worth it. This is a grown-up record: focused and fun and personal and experimental. They might have cut their respective teeth in whiskey-and-beer-soaked barrooms but the future is much wider for Shook and company. Here’s our interview with Shook about the album!
The Venomous Pinks formed in 2012 and finally put out their debut full-length album in 2022 and holy smokes does it rip. It’s loud and fast and aggressive and cathartic and it finds the crew full of fire and brimstone. Let’s just hope they don’t wait another decade until their second album! Here’s our (*both laugh*) episode that featured all three of the Pinks!
There are a few things in life that we can be certain about: death, taxes, and Tim Barry putting out a killer album of high-quality, working-class anthems every couple of years. There are gut-punches and tear-jerkers and anthemic singalongs, and Barry appearing as comfortable in his skin as he ever has.
#17 The Vandoliers – The Vandoliers
The Vandoliers put it all together on their self-titled record, so perhaps it’s perfect that it’s a self-titled record. They’ve been called “country punk” for years, and they are at the core, but they’ve really morphed into their very own thing: a marauding batch of shirtless, whiskey-infused bandits singing songs of love and heartache and, occasionally, good times!
#16 Mightmare – Cruel Liars
Realistically, this should be a top-ten album for sure, but that just speaks to the strength of the music that was released this year. In case you missed it, Mightmare is the side project of Sarah Shook and the Disarmers centerpiece River Shook. It’s a project that was birthed out of quarantine isolation and it takes some of the stylistic differences they’d been hinting at on Nightroamer to new and different heights. Dark pop and fiercely independent. Here’s our recent chat about the album!
I’ve been doing year-end best-of lists for Dying Scene since like 2011, so I’ve got a couple of hundred albums that have been present and accounted for, and yet I’m about 99.9% sure this is the first album to hail from the great State of New Hampshire, where I was born and raised and first introduced to this thing we call punk rock. Donaher play a super catchy, super fun, wicked joyful brand of power-pop that sounds like the Smoking Popes if they hailed from the Chicken Tender Capital of the World!
Okay so holy shit this record is great. This record is great enough that it came out this month, after I’d already completed my year-end list, and forced me to completely reevaluate it. I can think of very few things as punk rock as growing up outwardly non-binary and pansexual in a Christian household in the working-class South. Adeem is unafraid to call out hatred and bigotry and at the same time to embrace love and compassion and has crafted a wonderful record that’s equal parts Against Me! and Homeless Gospel Choir but with, like, Will Hoge or American Aquarium’s pop-infused country melodies. If we re-rank this list a year from now, White Trash Revelry might end up quite a bit higher.
#13 American Aquarium – Chicamacomico
I remember first hearing American Aquarium a number of years ago and thinking “hey that’s kinda good but I think it’s a little too country for me.” The lineup has changed a few times and frontman BJ Barham has gotten sober and has himself a family and, with it, I think a newfound focus, and he’s become one of my favorite songwriters – and figures, really – in the scene. There’s a recurring theme here about people growing up in the South and yet not standing for the sort of traditional negative Southern stereotypes and railing against some of the bigotry and backwardness and I’m here for it. Also, the title track is one of my most-listened-to songs of the year.
#12 Frank Turner – FTHC
Hey, remember when Frank Turner put out the most “punk rock” record of his career and it also happened to be his first #1 album in his native UK, and then we spoke to him the morning after receiving that award for our quarantine-inspired podcast and coincidentally, the day before he announced his “50 States In 50 Days” tour which he told us about off the record after we stopped recording, so we knew about it first? That was just this year! (Also, yes, FTHC has the most nods to his hardcore past as any record in the Turner oeuvre, but his somber ode to the life of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison is among the album’s standouts.)
Okay so I get a lot of press emails. Like…A LOT of them, spread out through the various different Dying Scene email accounts. I have to say that I don’t always read beyond the headlines or the opening paragraphs, but this one caught my eye. I don’t know why I’d never heard New Junk City before, but I chalk it up to my history of not reading all the way through emails…but I’m glad I got this one. Anytime a band is referred to as “Tom Petty as played by Green Day,” I’m going to stop and honestly probably roll my eyes because really…but then I’ll also listen because what if it’s actually as good as that portends to be. And I’ll tell you what…New Junk City is exactly as good as that portends to be. It’s like the best parts of 90s alternative and early 00s emo but with a classic Americana rock filter.
It’s a pretty remarkable thing when a person who has been in the game for as long as Lenny Lashley has continues to raise the bar for themselves musically and professionally, but that’s what we’ve got on Five Great Egrets. There’s nobody quite like Lenny, who can write a gut-wrenching song about relationship troubles and then a ballad dedicated to Boston-based 1930s comic Eddie “Parkyakarkus” Cantore, and have them both come across as genuine and sincere.
We’re starting to get into the territory where o the right day and in the right light, any of these albums could realistically be #1 on the list. Will Hoge might be alt-country or just Americana or Southern rock-and-roll or he might be all of those things together. What he definitely is is a guy who can write a down-and-dirty concise rock song and he can also write a lengthy narrative that’s both smart and thoughtful and razor-tongued and that will make you appreciate it more the more times you listen to it. Plus, the very first line on the album is “Meatloaf and mashed potatoes/Jesus Christ ain’t gonna save us” and that’s about the most John Prine intro to a song that wasn’t written by John Prine.
Every now and then you come across an album that becomes a benchmark moment for you; like, life existed before that album and then the world shifted and things weren’t the same after that. My own personal list includes the likes of: Vs.Recipe For Hate. Question The Answers. Badmotorfinger. The ’59 Sound. The Low End Theory. Stay Positive. 36 Chambers. Caution. 1372 Overton Park. And now, realistically, The Great American Novel.
Leave it to the greater Philadelphia area to come out with another one of those “where have you been all my life” bands. Where The Heart Is came out in May and I was maybe a little slow on the uptake at first but I’ve since made up for lost time. This band rules. This album rules. It’s poppy (in a good way, not a cheesy overproduced way) but it’s also super intense melodic hardcore and it fills a lot of gaps in my catalog that I didn’t know existed.
Whether through The Scandals or his solo career or now Mercy Union, we’ve been big fans of Jared Hart’s musical output since the earliest days of Dying Scene. White Tiger raises the bar on that previous output in every possible way (in no small part due to the noted presence of fellow scene vets Rocky Catanese and Nick Jorgensen and, in his last appearance on a Mercy Union record, Benny Horowitz). Much like the Sweet Pill record above, it fills a gap in the record catalog that you didn’t necessarily know existed, blending a sort of Americana rock with hook-infused late-90s alternative rock. A wonderful amalgam of styles and big swirling guitars and vocal harmonies for days.
Okay so I know that the idea of scene vets putting out their best work this deep into their respective careers is a bit of a recurring theme twenty albums deep into this list, but this might be the best example of that yet. You’d think that writing and recording the album from the comforts of your own garage/practice space/studio might make you develop lazy habits, but on In The Wild, The Interrupters managed to pull off an album that remains true to the band’s stylistic roots but does everything better. It doesn’t hurt that Aimee wrote her most personal – and powerful – songs to date.
Yet another dynamite album that found a group of veterans having to switch up their normal processes during quarantine and having the results bear serious fruit. Hot Water Music reconnected with producer Brian McTernan (whose own band, Be Well, put out my favorite EP of the year, Hello Sun) for their first full-length since Chris Cresswell joined the ranks and turned the forever four-piece into a five-piece. Hot Water Music have expanded their sound in myriad ways over the years, and on Feel The Void, it sounds like they’re still having fun doing so.
If I weren’t using the base ten number system, this album might actually be #1a or 1b. If you’ve been a fan of the punk and punk-adjacent scenes at any point over the last, say, decade, you know doubt know Kayleigh Goldsworthy from her Revival Tour spots or for filling out the sound in Dave Hause and the Mermaid for a while or for Frank Iero and the Future Violents or with Bayside or with Kevin Devine, and she’s a wonderfully talented addition to each and every project she joins. But all of that glosses over the fact that she’s also been a powerhouse songwriter in her own right for a long time, and that shines as bright and as focused as ever on Learning To Be Happy. It’s honest and it’s melancholy but it doesn’t wallow in the dark parts, but it instead cherishes the bright parts and life’s harmonies. Opening track “Losing My Mind” is probably my favorite song of the year, and “Little Ghost” and “You’re Good” aren’t far behind. Probably should have actually reviewed this album when it came out so I didn’t have to spend 500 words extolling its virtues at the end of the year.
It’s been just about 20 years since Lucero’s “Tears Don’t Matter Much” was released; in it, Ben Nichols states emphatically that “Cory Branan‘s got an evil streak / and a way with words that’ll bring you to your knees.” I’m not sure that’s ever been more true than it is on When I Go I Ghost. The haunting parts are more haunting; the evil parts are more sinister (see “The Pocket Of God,”) and the rare occasions where he’s writing about his on life (see “That Look I Lost”) are gut-punches, albeit with Memphis horns to lighten up the mood. Read our recent interview with Cory here.
Okay, so we’ve reached the pinnacle. Numero uno. The Album Of The Year (AOTY if you’re nasty). It of course belongs to none other than The Flatliners. The Flats’ career arc has been really impressive to behold. From starting out as upstroke-infused punk rock whippersnappers to signing to Fat Wreck and sharpening their teeth in the process for a series of increasingly caustic, anthem-driven albums, to the stylistic left-hand turn that was Inviting Light to the absolute kick-in-the-teeth that is New Ruin right from the time you drop the needle on track one. More than two decades into their career, Canada’s finest are as sharp and focused and targeted as ever, and have another benchmark album to show for it.
Hey, fam! Let me give you a quick introduction to myself. I’m Karina and the newest addition to our little, but growing Dying Scene family. I’m the one that spams our newsfeed with bands, festivals, and more stuff to come from the Danish scene. But to give you a better insight into my music taste, […]
Hey, fam! Let me give you a quick introduction to myself. I’m Karina and the newest addition to our little, but growing Dying Scene family. I’m the one that spams our newsfeed with bands, festivals, and more stuff to come from the Danish scene. But to give you a better insight into my music taste, you’ll find a bit of everything and often my music taste is based on my mood and what I catch myself listening to continue throughout the year. You’ll find a bit of hardcore, some indie rock, a little bit of bubblegum-infused pop-punk, and a ton of punk either way. So, on the off chance you read this list, I hope you take your time to listen to all ten bands.
I’ve had a weakness for The Flatliners since I can even remember, and this album is really great. Like many of their previous ones. But since it’s on everybody’s list? What more can I say except, They are playing at Manchester Punk Festival in April.
Top songs to listen to: It’ll Hurt, Big Strum, Heirloom and Oath.
This band is what happens when you’re angry and you know how to make good music. Having had the year of their lives, being supporting acts for Anti-Flag AND Dead Kennedy’s when they visited Denmark. This band isn’t one to ignore, so do yourself a favor and deep dive into their music. You’ll only regret not adding them to a “Get Hyped” playlist.
Top songs to listen to: Truthicide, Anger, The Kids Aren’t Alright and 404
Holy smokes, this album had me in tears from the first track. For some, it’s been a rough year and that includes myself. So this album came at a perfect time in my life, and the emotions that I needed to face this year, were only pushed to the surface thanks to this album. Being a mother of two amazing kids, ‘Wyatt’s Song (Your Name)’ has a very special place in our home and a song the three of us often put on to dance to.
Top songs to listen to: Wyatt’s Song (Your Name), Oldest Daughter, Cardinals II and You’re the Reason I Don’t Want The World to End
If Martha hasn’t made it to your ears, you and I haven’t spoken enough. This album is GREAT. The power pop infused sound to this album, makes it’s so catchy and I am not even talking about the lyrics. The melody’s on each song, will having you humming them to yourself when you’re a bit bored.
Top songs to listen to: Beat, Perpetual, Baby, Does Your Heart Sink, I Didn’t Come Here To Surrender and You Can’t Have a Good Time All of the Time.
Is this punk? No, it is not. It’s indie and welcome to my playlist. Slowly Slowly took me by storm back in July, but not without effort in 2021 when I heard their previous album and was a bit to fast to dismiss them by saying “I need something a bit more faster and angrier”. So what has changed? Everything. But this album has been holding me hostage since it was released and every chance I get I’ll talk about it. If you’re looking for cool music with amazing lyricsm, this is for you and your bottle of wine, if you’re anything like me.
Top songs to listen to: Blueprrint, Nothing On, God and Papier-Mâché
Do I think that anything PUP releases is a flawless? Hard yes. Even though this album has a direction change, I still love it and everything about it. From writing a song about a guitar (Matilda) to their cool music videos. PUP put on one of the best concerts I had been to this year and they deserve the award for the most sweetest Canadians ever. I need friends that enjoy these guys, so we can get trashed together.
Top songs to listen to: Totally Fine, Waiting, PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy and Grim Reaping
Probably the cutest band Denmark has to offer, this is a band where you want to take everyone of them home and feed them cookies and ask them a million questions about how they are doing. Jokes aside, these guys decided to pull a fast one on us and release this album while we all were hungover or still trashed from New Years Eve. Yes, this album was released 1/1/22 and nearly a year later, this album is still highly ranked on my list. I did a review for DS a few weeks (months?) back, but they are playing at Nasty Cut Records Fest in Copenhagen in May, if anyone needs a vacation.
Top songs to listen to: Dream, Mandy, Kold and Smile
Another band all the way from the down under, The Chats returned with GET FUCKED. Again keeping it real with their songs, and making it to my “I don’t have time for anything but listen to this” playlist and continually seem to make me come back to the album. And I’m not the only one feeling this band. Even children’s favorite band The Wiggles (HI GUYS, I STILL LOVE YOU. THANK YOU FOR SHAPING MY PAINFUL CHILDHOOD), covered The Chats at Falls Festival in Australia. I love it.
Top songs to listen to: Panic Attack, The Price Of Smokes, Dead On Site and I’ve Been Drunk In Every Pub In Brisbane
We are nearly done with the list and it wouldn’t have been a proper list without remembering to add Cigar. My mad crush on this band started for many years ago and I always wondered if they’d be back AND THEY CAME BACK. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that this album was played nonstop for three weeks. And after those three weeks were up, my children could even sing along (or try) to their songs. Between this album and my number one, I felt very conflicted and torn about having to decide which one it would be. But this album slaps and I love it.
Top songs to listen to: Move On, Classic You, Forget You and We Used To
It probably comes as no surprise that this is my number one choice, if you’ve read my review. Having been a fan for ten years, and making this album their final one. Lyric wise this album hits you like a train and I did finally come to terms with a lot of things ending thanks to this album. It’s a beautiful album to end twelve years of great music on and for me, closing a chapter on my life. And also, special shout out to Sarchasm for making my boyfriend feel attacked with ‘Therapist’.
Top songs to listen to: 1227, Sertraline Daydream, Conditional Love, Therapist
Here’s some Honorable mentions:
11. Sic Waiting – “A Fine Hill To Die On” 12. Petrol Girls – “Baby” 13. Pulley – “The Golden Life” 14. No Trigger – “Dr. Album” 15. Cold Years – “Goodbye to Misery” 16. Too Bad Eugene – “Distance” 17. Straightline – “Keep Your Cool” 18. Venerea – “Euro Trash” 19. Old Wives – “Mega Low Manic” 20. Counterpunch – “Rewire” 21. Handheld – “A Candian Tragedy” 22. No Fun at All – “Seventh Wave” 23. Wasting Time – “One More Time Without Feeling” 24. The Interrupters – “In The Wild” 25. A Wilhelm Scream – “Lose Your Delusion”
“Let me start by peeling back my skin…” With those lyrics from “Performative Hours,” the opening track and lead single from their 6th studio album, New Ruin, The Flatliners announced their triumphant and long-awaited return to the game. With vocals hollered in throat-shredding fashion about a sonic car-crash of guitar, bass and drums, the track […]
“Let me start by peeling back my skin…”
With those lyrics from “Performative Hours,” the opening track and lead single from their 6th studio album, New Ruin, The Flatliners announced their triumphant and long-awaited return to the game. With vocals hollered in throat-shredding fashion about a sonic car-crash of guitar, bass and drums, the track serves as a perfect opening salvo for what you, the listener, are about to experience over the next thirty-eight minutes.
It’s been a while since we last heard from Toronto’s finest. Five years, in fact, since the band unleased Inviting Light on the masses. (Here’s our review from back then, although it’s formatted to the old site so it might be a little wonky, and in the migration to the new platform we lost record of who actually wrote it. Super fun feature.) That album was a bit of a departure in both the literal and figurative senses of the word; it was their first album on Rise Records after the triumvirate of Fat Wreck Chords releases that immediately preceded it, and it brought with it a sound that probably qualifies as more mature and well-crafted than some of the band more frenetic earlier work.
On New Ruin, the Flats find themselves back on Fat Wreck for the first time in close to a decade (I know, I didn’t believe it either, but Dead Language came out in September 2013). Rather than pick up where they left off, however, and fall back on an earlier sound and a shallower bag of tricks which would have, frankly, been a mistake, the band continue to move forward in a way that might just be their best effort yet.
What’s immediately noticeable on this album are the riffs. Oh are there riffs. Not to insert myself into this review, but I had a list of things I wanted to do on the evening that I first listened to this album, and decided to forgo all of them in favor of picking up my Les Paul and trying to decipher some of the rock-and-roll goodness contained herein. Frontman Chris Cresswell and lead guitarist Scott Brigham have always kept the created a variety of textures that range from blistering intensity to swirling cacophony, New Ruin finds the duo fine-tuning their craft into a series of one soaring riff after another. Paul Ramirez and Jon Darby continue to serve as the band’s rock-steady anchor on drums and bass respectively, allowing their six-stringed compatriots to sail in some pretty deep waters filled with big, anthemic, earworm-style riffs.
New Ruin does a wonderful job of weaving in a lot of the different things that the Flats have always done best, but does it better. There’s the caustic, piss-and-vinegar of songs like “Performative Hours” and “Oath,” the latter being lead by those aforementioned massive riffs over a punishing drum line. There’s the mid-tempo push-and-pull of chugging rhythm guitar underneath swirling, sometimes droning leads in tracks like “Top Left Door” and “Big Strum” and my personal favorite “It’ll Hurt.” At least I think that’s my personal favorite. That does seem to keep changing after approximately four dozen listens at this point, however. After another brief, swirling guitar intro, “Tunnel Vision” turns into one of the more straight-ahead, four-on-the-floor punk rock burners in the band’s arsenal. And if you’re really into the big, swirling riffs, album closer “Under A Dying Sun” sets the bar high, an epic six-and-a-half minute wave that gradually builds to a false crest at the midway point, only to regather its energy and continue crashing upon the sonic shores in bigger, bolder fashion.
Both musically and lyrically, New Ruin shines as a beacon signaling that yes, you can go home again, but you can do so with the added weight and wisdom that come with years of consciously examining and reexamining yourself and your place in…well, in all of this. “Performative Hours” laments the self-important, ego-stroking facades that we build up on all sorts of social media. Songs like “Rat King” and “Big Strum” follow the collapse of power-hungry talking heads and their minions who lose sight of the proverbial forest through the trees, eventually collapsing under the weight of their own misdeeds. “Oath” finds our narrator trying to overcome the poisonous waters of hate and instead moving toward love and freedom and acceptance. It’s all a reminder that you can keep your tongue or your pen or your axe all sharpened and ready for battle, primed to call society and our leaders and, sometimes, ourselves on an ever-increasing amount of bullshit in the hopes of a brighter, more hopeful future. We haven’t come up with an album review rating scale here at Dying Scene 2.0 yet, but pick whatever sign or symbol or totem you want, and New Ruin gets all of them.
“…to at least let a little bit of soft light in.”
You can still pre-order New Ruin on Bandcamp here and through Fat Wreck here.
The beautiful country of Italy has provided us with countless luxuries for which we should be eternally grateful. The list includes but is certainly not limited to: Subway’s Italian herbs & cheese bread, the Super Mario Bros. video games, and arguably their greatest export, The Manges! An Italian pop-punk institution since 1993, the Manges are […]
The beautiful country of Italy has provided us with countless luxuries for which we should be eternally grateful. The list includes but is certainly not limited to: Subway’s Italian herbs & cheese bread, the Super Mario Bros. video games, and arguably their greatest export, The Manges!
An Italian pop-punk institution since 1993, the Manges are back with their sixth full-length album, and I think it may be their best one yet. I was extremely impressed with 2020’s Punk Rock Addio. At the time, I thought it was by far the band’s most well produced, polished, and complete studio recording. With their new record Book of Hate for Good People, the Manges have once again one-upped themselves.
The songwriting is on another level from anything this band has done before. Starting things off is the high octane album opener “Lucky Tiger”, complete with an infectiously catchy chorus and a healthy dose of Screeching Weasel style lead guitar parts. This song sets the bar quite high, but the rest of the album has no difficulty clearing that bar. “Back to Bangcock” – a song that’s been in my regular rotation since its release as a single months ago – keeps the energy up and delivers big time with its hook: “Once again, dripping red, a small fish in the net, feeling trapped, in the same old crap”.
Having listened to this album about a dozen times, I can pick out a few songs that I’m not totally into. “Jesus is My Homeboy” is an fun little rock ‘n’ roll track, but it kinda ruins the flow of the tracklist being sandwiched between ultra-energized songs like “I Shot Cyrus” and “High on Stress”. The only other song that doesn’t quite stick the landing is “Too Many Freaks”. Obviously, the Manges are massive Ramones fans, but this attempt at a Dee Dee style hardcore song doesn’t quite do it for me.
Enough negativity, back to blowing smoke up some asses! The back end of this record is killer. “The Hate Parade” and “I’m Not a Sissy” throw back to the Manges’ tougher sound from their Bad Juju record. “Red Flags” closes out the album on one final high note. This one’s got another chorus that super glues itself to your brain; the guitar driven melody on this track is awesome as well.
So yes, this record has surpassed Punk Rock Addio as the best Manges record. I can say that with absolute certainty. Book of Hate for Good People is essential listening and is one of my Top 10 albums of 2022.