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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Hause press photo by Jesse DeFlorio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Yes, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, good question!

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

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

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

Ziggy Stardust! 

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

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

Oh definitely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the album just says “Hause” on the cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or two of them. (*both laugh*)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right!

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Masefield and Dave Hause probably talking about cricket lollipops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh it definitely might be. Absolutely. 

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

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

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

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

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

Bearing Down” was certainly something to discuss. 

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

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

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

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

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

I played the mix for her. 

That probably makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sing Us Home Festival – Year One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a very good way to put it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swinney: Yeah Muncie, Indiana and Moore, Oklahoma.

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

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

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

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

Riddle: Oh yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Riddle: …and Pulley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DS: Damn right, *laughs*.

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

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

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

Swinney: Are you talking about “Albatross”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddle: I just like the songs to sound real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riddle: Yeah I love shitty clubs in Germany.

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

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

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

Riddle: Hey *laughs*…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Day at Fenway Photo Credit: Brittany Rose Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(*both laugh*) That’s pretty wild!

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

That’s really bizarre, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s gotta cost a fortune. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you go back to Little Rock in between?

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

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

Oh you know of it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing drummer too, by the way.

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

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

Does he ever end up playing some?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DS Interview: Jesse and Justin Bivona on The Interrupters’ new album, “In The Wild”

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…

(*all laugh*)

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!”

(*all laugh*)

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?

Jesse: Never.

Justin: No.

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”?

Jesse: Well…

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.

Both: Yeah!

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?

Both: Yeah!

Justin: For sure.

Jesse: Definitely.

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…”

Both: Yeah!

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…

Both: Yeah!

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 was from 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.

Both: Yeah!

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. 

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DS Introductions: Characters of Riot Fest 2023

One of my favorite quotes in photojournalism is from the legendary William Albert Allard. He famously said, “I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don’t find photographing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges.“ It has long been a sort of mission statement for me in my career as […]

One of my favorite quotes in photojournalism is from the legendary William Albert Allard. He famously said,

I think the best pictures are often on the edges of any situation, I don’t find photographing the situation nearly as interesting as photographing the edges.

It has long been a sort of mission statement for me in my career as a photographer. One I try to apply every time I have my camera with me. This year, I decided to forgo the photo pits and let my fellow DS Team Chicago member Mary handle those duties. First time since we started documenting Riot Fest I was not in the photo pit. I missed being in the photo scrum but being able to cover all the other wild, cool, fun and compelling parts of the festival was well worth it. A few of the following Characters of Riot Fest I knew already and am friends with some. But I also met so many more fantastic people. A few I’d like to introduce to you dear DS readers.


The Son also Rises

As Riot Fest’s main focus is music, let’s start with one of the great bands. Sludgeworth had the Rebel Stage with a time slot in competition with Foo Fighters. Yet, the Chicago band first founded in 1989, held its own. The band is comprised of singer Dan Schafer aka Dan Vapid, in the front, Brian McQuaid aka Brian Vermin, on drums in the back, and their bandmates, Adam White and Dave McClean on guitars, and Mike Hootenstrat on bass, long-time Sludgeworth fans were ecstatic. McQuaid, who was in Screeching Weasel prior to Sludgeworth, told me,

We played RF with Bad Brains back when it was at the Congress, but this time was just bigger and more exciting. It was an amazing experience to be part of such a massive production. +-This time was more special because the first time was a one off, and this time we’re gonna keep going.


The band returned this year earlier, taking the stage at Cobra Lounge and garnering newer fans and introducing a new part-time member, Brian McQuaid’s 13 year old son Max McQuaid. The younger McQuaid has been playing for 5 years but at Cobra, he made his live performance debut. It was fun to document that performance and see the warm welcome the young musician was given. Not just because his dad is in the band but because the kid has a legit talent with the sticks. Did not have to be a drummer to understand that when the Max smashed his way through “Anytime.”


“Max has played both Cobra and Riot Fest. He worked really hard and played like a pro both times, I can’t express how proud I am. He’s gonna go places I never have with his work ethic and indoctrination into this music scene.”


Riot Fest is the Pits

Another person making his Riot Fest debut its Kamran Khan. Rather than on the stage though, Khan was stationed near the stage, He worked as a member of the team regulating the photo pits. Among, the duties, making sure photographers in the pit had the proper credentials and providing instructions to the shooters as to the general protocols, as well as the individual mandates of the various bands. The team ensures that we photographers get the best images we can, at the same time making sure everyone stays safe. Khan was pretty confident he could handle the job.

I’d never worked a press pit before but I’ve been a bartender, a teacher, a bouncer, a real estate agent, a minister, a waiter at a Russian bath house, an editor/publisher, a ditch digger, a secretary, a babysitter, a writer, and I even lasted one day as a line cook. So, I figured he thought I’d have the skill set covered.

And his impressions?

Well, besides the fact I got to see some of the most badass musicians around performing at the top of their game from just several meters away, the best thing about it was meeting all the heroically hardworking and talented people that keep the Fest going that also happen not to be wearing artist wristbands. There’s so many moving parts to get this many acts going on in front of this many people smoothly, and so many people trying to do their best to make sure everybody’s safe and having a good time, and you gotta do that gig amongst the constant shifting demands and constraints of all the different emerging variables, pivoting and adapting on the fly. Working a fest is kinda like being Harrison Bergeron, (from that Kurt Vonnegut Jr story) trying to dance in a metal suit, and pulling it off.

But so many cool hardworking folks pull it off and it was great to have a killer weekend with them all. I also got a kick outa watching all the press do their work, the elegant yet clumsy dance of the “Where’s a damn angle where I can get a transcendent shot before I have to run across a city park dodging drunk grey bearded punk rockers between rain soaked lakes without twisting my ankle or breaking the strap on my camera (which can be fixed with a zip tie if it happens I learned) in order to hopefully get a shot that may or may not get cut depending on what somebody in an office 2000 miles away thinks. And getting to sit in the press tent and jaw with you about old pictures. That was a blast.

Describing his experience with vivid and poetic details is not surprising for a person whose Instagram handle is “Punks With Books”. And Khan’s last statement about pictures was actual a reference to 1970’s cinema. Khan, with headband and his style of facial hair, appears to be straight out of central casting for a Sidney Lumet or Alan J. Pakula directed film. It was a blast to be able to discuss, in general, cinema’s greatest decade, and specifically, Al Pacino. I need to go watch Dog Day Afternoon now. “Attica! Attica!”


Shoot to Thrill


One person who did not make his Riot Fest debut this year is photographer Mike “MXV” Vinikour. While a good portion of photographers, including myself for DS, have covered multiple Riot Fest, only Vinikour has wielded his camera and his vision at Riot Fest every year. The Downers Grove, IL-based photographer and Associate Game Developer at Stern Pinball runs his own site called The Punk Vault.

Vinikour described to me how he got started shooting Riot Fest, how it has changed over the years, and what it has meant to him.

Back in 2005 I saw a flier for this two day punk festival at the Congress Theater called Riot Fest. I saw the lineup of bands and it was full of all these great old punk rock bands I grew up with, some of them still mostly intact and some of them a fraction of what they were with different/new singers. I had only been shooting shows for about a year or so at that point and was still pretty green. I didn’t know who the promoter was at the time, but I had connections through a couple of bands that were on the bill. One of the days I think I got my passes from the Dead Kennedys’ publicist, and the other day I either got in through The Effigies or Channel 3.

It was a really fun two days and there were so many great bands both old and new, though it was the old punk bands of my youth that got me to go to it.

After the fest I had posted my show review and photos on my site. I was the only photographer at that first Riot Fest. A few months later, Riot Mike [Michael “Riot Mike” Petryshyn, founder and owner of Riot Fest] came up to me at a show and thanked me for the nice review of his show and giving him some exposure and he liked my photos. He told me of his plans for the second Riot Fest and that got me really excited. He invited me to come shoot it again and that started a long relationship I’ve had with Riot Fest. I haven’t missed shooting a single one and Mike, Luba [Vasilik], Heather [West of Western Publicity], and everyone in the organization have been wonderful to me over the years. I can’t say enough good things about all of them.

I liked it when they were just in the Congress Theater because I loved shooting at that venue, and it had a lot of space. When they added that second stage in the lobby though it made navigating in and out of there more difficult. That club had great lighting and the barricade had enough room in there to drive a car inside of it. The rest of the place was falling apart though.

When they moved it to the different clubs, it really made it difficult to try and shoot multiple shows, and many times I had to make a difficult choice of what ones to do because as good as modern technology is, I was never able to clone myself to be in two places at once. Driving between the venues was difficult too, having to find parking, going through traffic if you had only a short window of time to get from one club to another, and some venues were harder to shoot in than others due to their size, lack of barricade, etc.

I was pretty happy when they moved past the multi-club thing (which was always an exhausting week) and moved it to the big outdoor festival. I was blown away at that first one at Humboldt Park with how massive it was and what a huge undertaking it was on Riot Fest’s part to do something that big, but it turned out awesome and to this day it’s the only outdoor festival I like or want to participate in. They adapted well over the years of being a huge fest to make the layout more user friendly and I think the last few years have been even better than ever with how they’ve managed it all.

It was kind of a neat parallel with how Riot Fest grew over the years and how I grew and honed my craft at photography. We both started close to the same time and have both gotten way better over the years. I definitely own a part of my growth as a concert photographer to Riot Fest.

I started taking photos around 2004 for my website The Punk Vault. I had been writing about music since 1985 when I started a fanzine called Spontaneous Combustion. That ran until 1997, then a few years later I did a web version of that which then morphed into The Punk Vault site that I’ve been doing the last 20 years.


RE: the way shooting bands has changed at the fest over the years: Well in the old Congress Days I was allowed to shoot the full sets of every band and had all access passes, so I had the full run of the place. I was pretty spoiled, and Mike made me feel really special and appreciated. When they became a big outdoor fest, I understood the logistics of that wouldn’t work anymore. I was just happy that when the fest became huge, they. never forgot me and told me that I’ll always be welcome to come shoot the fest as long as I want. It went from me being the only one there, to being in a pretty small group of photographers sharing the pit, to now being one of probably 100 that shoot the fest every year. It can be challenging at times being in there with so many people all vying for the same three spots to shoot though those giant speaker stacks that are blocking most of our view, but I’ve been so many awesome photographers over the years at the fest that it feels like a family. There’s a core group of us that have been shooting the outdoor fest for so many years now that it really has become the most fun weekend of shooting bands of the year and the one I look forward to the most. It’s like a brotherhood of photographers and we all laugh and have a great time.

Sometimes being crammed in there with so many people can be hard on me because I have anxiety and that can trigger me, but it’s always been manageable and in a way it’s good for me to challenge myself. Also, there’s been times where instead of 3 songs, we only get 1 due to them splitting us in groups, or certain bands may have restrictions that only let us do one song. That has made me a more efficient photographer so when those situations happen I can roll with it a lot easier than ever now.

I almost never just watch a band unless I’m shooting them. The enjoyment of shows for me is shooting photos, I won’t go to shows unless I’m shooting them. I’ve made exceptions at the fest for bands I really love that may not allow any photography, (The Misfits for example) but typically if a band won’t let me shoot them, I won’t stick around to watch them, and I’ll go shoot someone else.


Having a Senior Moment


AnnaBelle “Bee” Pant, is a 12th grader at what her mother Monica described to me as a “progressive-ish” high school in a small, conservative Michigan town. AnnaBelle wanted something a little different from the typical senior portraits she had seen with classes coming before hers,

I’m 17, and I live in southwest Michigan, which is basically just a bunch of cornfields. I wanted to get my senior pictures somewhere a little more “me.”


AnnaBelle and her parents – Ben & Monica Pant – and her 11th grader brother Trey, made it a family affair.

This is our third year at Riot Fest, and I’ve always loved going with my family seeing concerts. I know it’ll be some of my best memories with my parents.”

As for the family’s favorite sets? AnnaBelle spoke on behalf of the quartet,

For sure Bowling For Soup!! and The Used were awesome, we were camping at the barrier for both.”

Oh and the Pants also brought along a friend named Ryan, whom the Pant family befriended at the festival in 2021. Well, sort of. The actual Ryan was unable to attend this year so family carried “Flat Ryan,” inspired by the Flat Stanley travels the word idea. This is just one of the many long-lasting friendships formed at Riot Fest every year.


Maker of the Mosh


Nik Simmons describes himself this way,

Stay at home dad and drumming for Exegesis until Rod Tuffcurls and the Bench Press needs me.

But Simmons is also a man with an annual mission to organize the best Riot Fest mosh pits, or at least the most unique.

Over the years, it has become a Riot Fest tradition to have a gimmick pit. As soon as I read that Corey Feldman was playing, I knew he was the perfect act. 

Feldman became famous as a child actor, including in the classic 80’s films, Stand By Me, The Goonies, and The Lost Boys. During the past few decades he has concentrated on music but has never really been acclaimed for his musical talents.


Still, Feldman elicited both enthusiasm and snickers from a good number of fest attendees. Simmons told me,

His name stood out from the lineup so much that I had to see him perform. I’m sure many went for the irony. However, even those who went in with that attitude were soon won over by Corey Feldman’s performance.

Simmons, who cited The Lost Boys as his favorite Feldman film, didn’t get to meet the star but does believe the actor was aware of the pit,

I think he did. It was posted on one of his social media accounts.

More importantly, the crowd seemed to enjoy it as Simmons described the result, 

Excellent. A bunch of people had a great time.

This was not Simmons’ first such experience as he informed me,

Yes, there was a wall of death for The Village People, corn dog pit for Sincere Engineer, and a pit for Devo. I’ve made a sign for each of those mosh pits too.

Looking forward to witnessing what Nik Simmons comes up with at Riot Fest 2024. 


Board with Riot Fest


Cooper Greenslade, 13, caught air and grabbed attention as he flew high above the Riot Pop! skate ramp set up against the Riot Fest Devil. Greenslade shared with me, via instagram, his first Riot Fest experience.

Yes, this was my first time at RF, and as far as the experience it totally exceeded my expectations honestly. I didn’t really know how kool it was gonna be till I walked through the gates and saw all the people and heard the insane music I was immediately stoked about being there. I have not skated any other music fests but I definitely intend on going to more in my life.

I have been skating 5 1/2 years not pro (yet) but hopefully one day. I am sponsored by Character Skateboards, GROM USA, Static Hardware, Fargo. I would say my overall experience with RF is the bands were amazing and the stages were close enough to get to see a lot of bands quickly, and the people watching was amazing.

I always get super stoked riding with older dudes cause they have a lot of experience and all of them are super kool and they are always giving me tips and advice to get better, the Chicago skate scene is very positive and motivated. I’m super excited to have so many good influences around me.

Yes, I would love to make this a full time career, but for now I’m having a ton of fun and meeting a lot of amazing skaters all over the US. I’m just gonna keep hustling and see where it takes me.


Punk Rock Nuptials


The wedding party wore t-shirts emblazoned with Cards Against Humanity style references to past (“Throwing Meat at Morrissey“) and present (Dave P., a Dave Grohl doppelgänger, wore a shirt with the Foo Fighters singers’ name on it) Riot Fests and the group’s all too often reaction whilst watching Chicago Bears games (“Shit Got Fucked”). The Bride and Groom wore t-shirts where the traditional “til death due us part” was wrapped around corpse hands, and Old Skool Vans with their initials and the wedding date printed on the heel. The corsage was made out of Riot Fest lineup cards, and there was a swarm of (fake) adorable bumblebees. For Angela Vetrovec-Schiller & Aaron Schiller, there was no doubt the chapel they would head to would be the Riot Fest Chapel.

Riot Fest means so much to me. Music is a huge part of my life. I’ve been going to Riot Fest since the start. It’s basically a holiday weekend for me and my friends. Moving away from Chicago was a hard decision for me. Riot Fest has now turned into a yearly reunion. The random run ins are one of my favorite parts. I met my husband at a show, fell in love with him at a fest, he proposed to me at another fest, so getting married at Riot Fest was the perfect way to do in front of all of our best friends. I love being at Riot Fest, I love the people of Riot Fest, I love our scene. 


Punks Care


Punk Rock Saves Lives and Riot Fest have combined to save lives for years. PRSL founder Rob “Rover” Rushing explained why Riot Fest is so meaningful to him, his wife and board member Tina Rushing, and all involved in the beloved nonprofit.

“PRSL was formed in November 2019. As a continuation of the work that we did with the Love, Hope, Strength, Foundation. It Is my dream and my wife’s and quite a few others’ dream to use the positivity of the punk scene to make incremental differences in our lives every day.”

As LHS or as PRSL, I believe Since 2013, possibly before, and that includes all of the Denver ones as well, we were invited by Sean (McKeough), the co-owner of Riot Fest as a kind of a personal mission because he had beat cancer before his untimely death from a brain aneurysm. We’ve swabbed close to 400 every single year we’ve been at Riot Fest, if not more. Considering 1 in 100 matches to save a life, and 1 in 1000 of those make it to the donation, Riot Fest is way above normal averages for saving lives. Something about Riot Fest is just special because people not only come to have an absolute blast but seem to care. 

Seems like that is the community and it’s even with, you know, years where it’s more punk rock, or it’s more rock or it’s more rap, it doesn’t change. The community of Riot Fest is pretty amazing. 

One of my favorite moments of Riot Fest ever, and it’s kind of sad to say it this way, but the year Sean passed away. They went forth, obviously. Very, very sad. But also, they had his Gator, his golf cart type thing. And they brought it, and they displayed it as a memorial for him. And they came and got me at my booth. When I got there to set up, they drove by and took me to the Gator and had me put a sticker on the Gator because they knew how much our charity meant to him.  

That just proves that the people of Riot Fest, it’s not only a business and obviously it’s that, but it’s also a community and they believe in it and seeing, you know seeing Mike’s article this year, where he came out as on the spectrum, it was a very inspirational and awesome article. So that’s just some of the cool things about Riot Fest. That makes it special to me and I will always, always be there as long as we exist.

“Going into it, I obviously thought it was more rock-centric than it had been in the past. But it ended up being just so widespread that I didn’t even realize that. It was so cool. And you know, having The Dresden Dolls on the main stage…luckily Amanda gave us an amazing shout out for the charity. And because of her, we probably signed up an extra 90 to 95 people within the next 15 minutes at our little pop-up booth, as well as people going into the booth.

“Mr. Bungle doing thrash, which was incredible too. Learning about a whole bunch of new bands and just the community and the people embracing what we do. It just warms my heart, you know? It’s incredible. So, Punkers do give a fuck. That’s one of our slogans, punks give a fuck. And it’s true, right? Riot Fest is proof.


Please check out more sights from Riot Fest 2023! Thanks and Cheers!


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DS Show Review & Gallery: From Parts Unknown, Death and Memphis, and Voice of Addiction. Chicago, IL (07.11.2023)

From Parts Unknown, out of the Lone Star State, did a Liar’s Club stop, providing the band members a fun chance to hang out with their good friends in Voice of Addiction. VOA and Death and Memphis have played in front of DS photographers repeatedly recently and we dig being there for the rollicking good […]

From Parts Unknown, out of the Lone Star State, did a Liar’s Club stop, providing the band members a fun chance to hang out with their good friends in Voice of Addiction. VOA and Death and Memphis have played in front of DS photographers repeatedly recently and we dig being there for the rollicking good times both of those bands serve up. It was a good evening onstage, as well as on the stoop outside 1665 West Fullerton Ave, well-known for being the place of some pretty great conversations and hangs.


From Parts Unknown is actually from a well-known part of the United States, Dallas, TX. The band brought its own flavor of Texas punk to Chicago. But the group is unlikely to include Greg Abbott, Rick Perry [current and former Governors of Texas respectively] or Ted Cruz [United States Senator from Texas) amongst its fan base. Flying a rainbow flag attached to his bass guitar, Derrick Soto caught some big air himself numerous times, as said flag rippled out to full display.

Soto told me:

I do have one [“Defend Trans Kids” t-shirt]. Wasn’t wearing it that night. I usually just sport the flag on my bass in solidarity.


Lead singer and guitar player Ben McCracken pulled no punches when he confirmed to me,

Yeah Teddy and Ricky are not fans of us. Or especially Greg fucking Abbott. We are proudly Woke Texans even if that sounds oxymoronic.”

McCracken continues,

We very much believe in and support trans rights. Our new song, “Take It Out” is about taking bigoted jokes out of the norm and letting people identify however they want to. To stop being ignorant with gender and doxing certain groups.”


From Parts Unknown relays its message through driving music perfectly complementing its powerful lyrics.

In addition to the aforementioned “Take It Out,” the included, “Barrymore,” “13 Years Ago,” “Lebowski,” “Blood and Teeth,” Bill Braski Is Not One Of Us, and “Teddy Ruxpin,” among others.

There’s a well-known saying that everything is bigger in Texas. That can surely be said of From Parts Unknown. The trio – McCracken, Soto, and drummer Jimmy Sefcik – blasted over the crowd, with sound, high jumps and hair…a lot of hair. Makes sense since Texas is also known for big hair, right? Seriously though, From Parts Unknown is on a steady road to being well-known. Or even more well-known. Per McCracken,

As far as news goes, our album is being remastered by Scott Halquist [Ten Foot Pole] and should be available on green vinyl around November this year. We have two music videos in the works to make when we get home over the next month/two.

So make sure you catch these Texas tornadoes at your earliest chance. Unless you are a fan of Teddy, Ricky, or Greg that is.


Death and Memphis has been on a tear this year. I covered one of its shows in April, and this present post is one of two shot by a DS staffer in the last few weeks. Considering how good the music is and the energetic and appealing stage presence of all four band members, it’s hard to resist covering Death and Memphis shows. This spirited performance, by four genuinely decent humans and talented veteran musicians, was no exception.

The next opportunity to check out Death and Memphis will be on July 29 at guitar player Steev Custer’s Birthday Bash. It takes place at Custer’s Fine Tunes Center For The Arts. Come hang out and wish Steev a happy one!


Another one of our regulars of late is Chicago’s Voice of Addiction. Once again giving a solid and tight performance, the trio did not disappoint. VOA was not originally on the bill but grabbed the opportunity to hang with, and help out, good friends VOA members donated their takes to their good friends in From Parts Unknown, to help them on the road. This was not a show about money for Ian Tomele, Tyler Miller, and Kevin Amaro.

McCracken explained how he and Tomele became friends,

So, Ian and I became friends prob about 7ish years ago when VOA was in town and needed a crash spot, and myself being someone who puts bands up, got asked by I can’t remember but am sure was a credible friend to help them. Years later we stayed in touch and he let my now wife and me stay during Riot Fest, maybe 2017? 

This night was about friendship and having a good time. VOA nailed it, and one of the reasons we love covering the trio.


The three terrific bands made it totally worth going out on so early in the week. McCracken summed up the evening,

As far as our show at Liars, it was fun like always. Gary [Kessler, the beloved bar manager, shoe connoisseur, and winner of the Chicago Reader “Best of Chicago” category, “Best Music Venue Bartender” these past two years] is a trip and amazing. It’s always a stop that makes me want to party. The show was solid lineup wise, and for a Tuesday not too bad a turnout.

Please check out more photos from the show. Thanks and cheers!


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DS Show Review & Gallery: Sincere Engineer record release show, with The Brokedowns, and Canadian Rifle at Metro. Chicago. (12.23.2023).

Iconic music venue Metro Chicago hosted hometown hero Sincere Engineer as the band celebrated the release of their newest record, Cheap Grills. Fellow Windy City punk bands, The Brokedowns, and Canadian Rifle provided crucial support. Sincere Engineer provided cool thrills with Cheap Grills at the legendary music venue nearly adjacent to Wrigley Field. There was […]

Iconic music venue Metro Chicago hosted hometown hero Sincere Engineer as the band celebrated the release of their newest record, Cheap Grills. Fellow Windy City punk bands, The Brokedowns, and Canadian Rifle provided crucial support.


Sincere Engineer provided cool thrills with Cheap Grills at the legendary music venue nearly adjacent to Wrigley Field. There was even a quick cameo by Deanna Belo’s father Nick Belos, the star of the new record’s cover photo. Well, from the waist down, anyway. Deanna Belos described to me how her father came to be the subject of the album’s artwork,

“I found it [the photo] in a box of pictures in my parents’ basement! It’s my dad from the ’80s. The name came shortly after I found the picture, just thought it was kinda a funny pun that fit the record cover well.”

Nick Belos, clad only in pair of running shorts similar to those on the album cover, strolled calmly on stage at the start of his daughter’s set, tapped a Weber Grill placed near the drum area and walked off.

Tunes from Cheap Grills, including, “Old Coat Pocket,” “Anemia,” “Inside My Head,” “California King,” “Fireplace,” and “Landline,” made up the bulk of the setlist for Sincere Engineer’s buoyant and delightful set.

As this was a record release show, I naturally asked her to describe how the creation of Cheap Grills differed from making previous releases. Belos told me,

“This album was different because we recorded it in Massachusetts with a new producer, Mike Sapone! Had a blast doing it. All the others were done in Chicago so it was a different vibe getting away from town for 2 weeks and being kinda isolated and recording the songs.” 

As for this new year for Sincere Engineer per Belos,

Not sure what 2024 is looking like yet! I imagine more touring and stuff like that! 

Dying Scene will be there for Sincere Engineer’s 2024 “stuff.” I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be.


The Brokedowns were name-checked in Sincere Engineer’s first big hit, “Corn Dog Sonnet No 7,” in some of its closing lyrics,

So I listen to The Brokedowns
They remind me of you and I feel sorry for myself.”

But The Brokedowns, founded more than two decades ago, have built a very loyal following for a reason. The band’s own catchy and compelling lyrics set to driving music means strong and memorable songs. With a solid and tight stage presence, the quartet never fails to keep the crowds excited. This night’s set, which included, “Obey the Fumes,” and “Ernest Becker at a Costco” was a non-stop no exception.

I’m looking forward to Dying Scene covering more of The Brokedowns’ shows in 2024.


Canadian Rifle kicked off the show with a rollicking set. The band blasted through, among other tunes, “When in Doubt,” “Investments,” “Peaceful Death,” “You Are My Junk,” and “Just for You.” It was a powerful performance and the perfect start for the night.


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


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

Hello, and welcome to the July, 2023 edition of Dylan’s Favorite Punk Albums, EPs & Things! This is the column where I, Dylan aka Screeching Bottlerocket, tell you what new punk rock albums, EPs and singles I enjoyed the most this month. This is a collaborative effort with our friends at Punk Rock Radar, with whom I’ll […]

Hello, and welcome to the July, 2023 edition of Dylan’s Favorite Punk Albums, EPs & Things! This is the column where I, Dylan aka Screeching Bottlerocket, tell you what new punk rock albums, EPs and singles I enjoyed the most this month.

This is a collaborative effort with our friends at Punk Rock Radar, with whom I’ll be doing a video version of this Best Of wrap-up each month. If you like discovering awesome new bands as much as I do, be sure to follow Punk Rock Radar on Instagram and YouTube, and keep tabs on their Upcoming Release Calendar.

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

DIESEL BOY
Gets Old

Comeback album of the year? Diesel Boy returns with their first new record in over 20 years! Gets Old is on brand with nothing but fun, sarcastic, melodic punk songs. Standout tracks include “Dirty Dishes”, “The Finnish Line”, and the closing track “Two Stones”, which is a beautiful tribute to the late Tony Sly.

BORDERLINES
Keep Pretending

Portland, Maine’s Borderlines release their debut album 10 years after the band started. Keep Pretending is a laid back pop-punk record for fans of The Methadones, The Copyrights, The Gamits, etc. It kinda reminds me of Warning era Green Day a bit, but less depressing. Good driving music.

PAPERBACK TRAGEDY
8!

Dying Scene Band Spotlight alumni / Baltimore melodic punks Paperback Tragedy return with their second new record in as many years. 8! continues where Threeshe! left off with another masterclass in Epifat style rapid-fire skate punk.

THE HAERMORRHOIDS
At the Earth’s Core

Listen up, Ramonescore fans! This is the subgenre’s best album of the year. Hamburg, Germany’s Haermorrhoids rip through 16 songs in 28 minutes. No frills, no bullshit, these guys aren’t fucking around. The whole record is killer but my favorite songs are “Time Warp Incest”, “Captain Isolation”, and the title track. For fans of Screeching Weasel, The Lillingtons, Chixdiggit, The Queers, etc.

BEAT THE SMART KIDS
Hot Death

Hailing from the windy city, Chicago ska-punks Beat the Smart Kids buck the genre’s recent trends and stick to their more traditional third wave sound. Check out their new record Hot Death if you like Mustard Plug, MU330, or Skankin’ Pickle. Standout tracks include “Twist the Knife”, “Counterfeit”, and “Into the Galaxy”.

WRONG LIFE / PAPER TIGERS
Last Words of an Optimist

Wrong Life is one of The Murderburgers’ frontman Fraser Murderburger’s current projects. The band just released a new record a few months ago, so I was surprised when I saw this split with fellow Edinburgh, Scotland residents Paper Rifles pop up on Spotify. The two new Wrong Life songs on here are great, and this is my first time hearing Paper Rifles – their songs are great, too – I’ll have to check out their back catalog.

DUCKBOY
tragic love songs to study to (vol. 5)

Duckboy is kinda mysterious, I can’t find anything about them song social media, and I think it’s probably a one man band. Anyway, there are seven tracks on their debut EP but most of them are these bullshit little interludes. The three that are actual songs are pretty fucking good. I’m not a fan of this kind of “Defend Pop-Punk” style pop-punk but this is really listenable. “XXL hadron collider” is a bad ass song.

Making Friends – “Heroes Die”

“Heroes Die” is the latest single from Brighton, UK skate punks Making Friends’ upcoming album Fine Dying. This is quintessential skate punk for fans of Lagwagon, No Use For A Name, NOFX, and all the other usual suspects.

7 Years Bad Luck – “Another Life”

Austrian punks 7 Years Bad Luck return with their first new album in six years! 2017’s Great, Big, Nothing is a hard act to follow but these guys are up to the task. “Another Life” is the second single from No Shame (that’s their new record – we’ll talk about it next month!). This song reminds me a lot of Pulley’s “Hooray for Me” – I dare you to listen to it and tell me you disagree.

MxPx – “Stay Up All Night”

MxPx is one of my favorite bands of all time, so even though the leadoff single from their upcoming album Find A Way Home is a bit lackluster, I’ve gotta include it on my best of July list. “Stay Up All Night” is a serviceable, radio ready song, which is why it’s kinda confusing they chose it as the first single. Regardless, I’m excited for the new record – I think the best is yet to come.

Mustard Plug – “Fall Apart”

Mustard Plug’s got a new record on the way, too! Where Did All My Friends Go? is due out September 8th on Bad Time Records. The lead single “Fall Apart” reminds me a lot of the band’s 2007 album In Black and White. I’m looking forward to hearing more!

Judo CHOP! – “Conquer”

Death, taxes, People of Punk Rock Records putting out killer melodic punk. Judo CHOP!’s new single “Conquer” is an absolute banger. Lookout for the Aussie melodic punks’ new record coming later this year on People of Punk Rock.

Swill – “Delicate Subject”

What’s that? You thought the People of Punk Rock fellating was done? Of course not! They also went and signed a band from my home state, Jacksonville, FL’s Swill. This is the lead single from their new record Delicate Subjects, which comes out on August 18th. These guys simply do not miss.

Marked Out – “Distance”

Bakersfield, CA’s Marked Out plays early 2000’s inspired pop-punk. “Distance” is the first single from their new EP Never Enough. Recommended if you like Allister, The Movielife, Slick Shoes, etc.

The Subjunctives – “Goodbye I Will Not Miss You, You Dicks”

The Subjunctives are an old school pop-punk band from Seattle, fronted by Ean Hernandez from Sicko. This is the lead single from their sophomore album Let’s Try This Again, which is due out on September 16th. For fans of 90’s pop-punk.

Anywho, that concludes the July installment of the column. Thanks for checking it out! Keep your eyes glued to Dying Scene for all things punk rock and follow our friends Punk Rock Radar on InstagramYouTube, etc. Join us again next month!

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Dying Scene Interview: Tristan and Hunter Martinez of Decent Criminal on Their Brand New Full-Length “There’s More To It Than Climbing”

There’s More To It Than Climbing, the much-anticipated, brand-spanking-new full-length from Southern California’s finest, Decent Criminal, is live on all streaming services now. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to chat with Tristan and Hunter Martinez, the duo responsible for making up 50% of the Decent Criminal gang, and got to question the minds […]

There’s More To It Than Climbing, the much-anticipated, brand-spanking-new full-length from Southern California’s finest, Decent Criminal, is live on all streaming services now. I had the absolute pleasure of getting to chat with Tristan and Hunter Martinez, the duo responsible for making up 50% of the Decent Criminal gang, and got to question the minds behind a record that is unlike anything the group has released previously.

My last encounter with these dudes came back in 2017 on a bill featuring Dwarves and The Queers (it’s actually been so long that the venue, Exit/In, has since closed and reopened its doors) and it was back in the days when I was still exploring the genre that I’ve now come to love so much. That tour was in support of their sophomore release, Bloom, a record that was described by PunkNews as having “much more oomph and power” than their debut. This was the Decent Criminal that I had obsessed over for a while, but later fell out of touch with until this current release.

Parts of this record allude to the Southern California brand of punk that served as my very introduction to Decent Criminal, while the remaining majority explores genres outside that which fans have previously experienced from the group. On more than one occasion, heavy shades of Sublime are present, with little sprinkles here and there of qualities that remind me of the glory days of Everclear and Sugar Ray (but in only the best ways).

You can tell these dudes let loose with this record and just had a good time making it and the end product is something that’s both riveting, yet easy listening at the same time. Tracklist construction is something I’ve paid more and more attention to as I conduct more interviews, and as we discuss during our chat, this record is extremely well-crafted in a way that guides you along a journey of where these guys are currently at. I very much encourage you to check this thing out below from start to finish because, although each track can stand alone in its own right, it truly is a journey in that each recording guides you along to the next until “Hold Me Down” serves as a worthy conclusion.

Due to the heavy emphasis on this record being more of a journey rather than merely a collection of tracks, conducting this interview in a track-by-track format seemed fitting. Catch the full interview below, and go catch these guys live because, with this release being unlike anything in their catalog, both Hunter and Tristan assured that their live shows will feature some changes.

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

Dying Scene (Nathan Kernell NastyNate): I appreciate you guys reaching out to do this interview. It was nice diving back into your music, I’d kind of fallen out of the loop with you guys since the last time I saw you. I caught you guys years ago here in Nashville I think during the Bloom tour, maybe with like Agent Orange or Dwarves or somebody. It was back at Exit/In before they shut down and reopened.

Tristan Martinez: Oh Dwarves, yeah man. We did that run with them and the Queers, that was one of our first tours.

That’s right, yeah. I get all those shows mixed up because Agent Orange and the Queers came through every other month pretty much, always at Exit/In. So where are you guys calling from?

Tristan: We’re in sunny Los Angeles, California, it’s pretty sweet. We just finished up tour yesterday so we’re back here in California.

It looks a hell of a lot better than it does here in Nashville right now *laughs*.  So I wanted to start out and see if I could get some background on the record, where it was recorded, how long you’ve been sitting on these songs. It’s due out in May, correct?

Hunter Martinez: Yeah it’s coming out May 19th, this first pressing is gonna be on our own label called Diissed Records. Then Gunner is out in Germany and they’re doing distribution out there and Best Life Records out of the UK is doing distribution there too.

Cool, have you guys been sitting on these songs a while or did you write these leading up to getting this recorded?

Hunter: Essentially we had like a record’s worth of material before the pandemic, and then that happened so we basically threw it all away except for one song, that’s on the record. Yeah so we just made like a whole ‘nother record.

Yeah that’s kind of been a common theme with a few of these interviews I’ve been doing. Guys will have stuff that they released right during COVID or they’ve got material, and then we’re starting to see now records that are released that were written during COVID. It kind of gives a different spin on some of these new releases.

Hunter: Yeah, it was like a period too where you didn’t really know what the hell was gonna happen.

Tristan: Some of it’s very dark, it’s almost like a reminder of why you even write or play music in the first place, it was kind of freeing for me.

So congrats on the record guys. What stood out to me, it seems like it kind of jumps around from genre to genre. There was a short bio at the top of the email I was sent that listed influences like Silversun Pickups and Dirty Nil, kind of a wide range of influences. But it made sense after listening to it.

Tristan: Yeah we dabble man, we listen to a lot of different kinds of stuff so I think it shows.

I mean I definitely heard some like old-school grunge in there, and then I heard some of what I was familiar with from seeing you guys back in like 2018 or 19. I heard some of that and then I heard some stuff that was kind of caught me off guard, completely different.  

With this record, would you say the variation in style is kind of the biggest difference from what you’ve released before or do you have something that comes to mind for what’s different about this release than what you guys have put out before?

Hunter: Yeah I mean check out the whole thing, I think it’s meant to be listened to in its entirety, everything’s intentional. I mean I think it’s gonna be obvious that there’s way different shit than we’ve done before and that’s cool.

Tristan: Very, very happy about this record, how everything came out is a good interpretation of where we are right now, we’re stoked to actually be out play and play it in full probably coming up here.

So “Outside” kicks off the brand new release. I’m gonna ask a super original question, can you tell me about it *laughs*?

Tristan: Yeah “Outside” is cool, it’s Brian’s tune, Brian starts it off pretty. It’s kind of like the whole record, in a way, it’s a good scope of like where things are at and where things are going. Brian’s no longer in the band and I think it sort of opens up that and you know where he’s at, where he’s going and where we’re going. So unfortunately we had to part ways.

Hunter: I think he wrote that after he did mushrooms with his wife and I think some of that he references in the song. He showed us that demo a long time ago and I was very much pushing him on recording it because it sounds so fuckin’ cool. I really, I love that song.

So “Driving“, that’s one of the singles, that was one that I was kind of referencing as what I’m familiar with as Decent Criminal. Did you plan that out with that kind of sounding like what you guys traditionally sound like, was there a plan behind releasing that one first?

Tristan: It was just kind of the first one that we thought like “Oh this could be our first single”.  As far as singles go, these first two kind of guide you along. Like “Smooth” almost takes you like a little bit further into where it’s going, so it all kind of leads you. So the first parts kind of familiar if you’re into our band, but then the next two are gonna be vastly different.

Was “Driving” the one you kept from that basically full length you had during COVID?

Hunter: No, that song is called “Wanna Be.”

Oh gotcha. So tell me a little bit about the meaning behind “Driving.

Tristan: Yeah “Driving,” essentially it’s kind of metaphorical in a way, like the car is myself, my body, my lifestyle. Driving my car is you know like living a different lifestyle than most people and kind of the toll it takes on your life being in a band and all that shit. I don’t know, I think it could be taken pretty literal and that’s chill too. So yeah that’s the actual meaning behind it.

Sweet. So then moving on to “Soothe,” that’s another single out, that’s probably my favorite. I like how simple it is and it kind of makes a lot of sense, you talking about that one taking the listener a little further to where this record is going. I thought it was more of like a traditional grunge sound.

Tristan: Yeah for sure, it just hits in certain places and it comes down other places. And yeah that was a cool song. Hunter and I were just jamming, I record everything we jam, so it’s a song where none of those parts were written alone, it just happened on the spot and we just like put it together over the course of a few weeks.

Is that common with you guys, just kind of writing like spur of the moment?

Hunter: Yeah. I mean moreso with the last couple records. This one, you know Tristan did a lot on his own, Brian, our other songwriter, had a couple songs that he brought to the table. But yeah moreso the last four records we were like in a room jamming together. This one was like every now and then we would have stuff on the spot, but most stuff came through Tristan working on songs at our apartment.

Tristan, are you kind of the primary songwriter or is it more of a collaborative thing?

Tristan: I mean two of the songs on the record are Brian’s, but yeah I’m the primary songwriter. And I mean we just, you know, hash it out together really. So I come up with basically most of it and kind of get it together.

So then “Same,” that one was kind of giving me like beach Sublime vibes. What I did really want to ask you guys was what kind of what influences of yours do you think show through in this record the most, because it’s kind of all over the place in terms of like genre?

Tristan: Well it’s kind of cool to just kind of write to a drum machine instead. So all I did was take like a loop, same as the first song I wrote during the pandemic.

Hunter: That one stayed pretty true to the demo, too, which is awesome man. And more like the home recording style I’d say, which is something that we always loved from other bands, which is why Sublime I guess is a perfect comparison *laughs*.  I mean they did that a lot.

Tristan: Yeah that song kind of reminds me of this Minutemen song, kind of has just a 90s vibe all together.

I mean love them or hate them, it was almost giving me Sugar Ray vibes. And I mean that in all the best ways, not the shitty ways *laughs*.

Hunter: I love Sugar Ray man, I don’t care what anyone says *laughs*.

Tristan: They’ve got some hits man, they write some great pop tunes.

So then “Blind,” that’s another hard-hitting one. So how I kind of see it, with this first half of the record, you’ve got “Driving” which is kind of what you’d expect, kind of the hard hitting one, and then “Soothe” you’re backing off a little bit, showing where the album’s heading. And then :Same,” kind of an unplugged vibe, but then “Blind” is another hard-hitting one. Was that done on purpose, I guess just with the flow of the record?

Hunter: Yeah just with the flow. I mean, I think putting “Blind” later in the record wouldn’t have made any sense. Because, I don’t know, the second-half of the record, I don’t wanna say I like it more, but I like the direction where it’s headed. “Blind,: it’s kind of just like a liberating song in a way, the lyrics are funny.

Tristan: That one’s also one where we jammed it out together in the garage, and I remember like working out “Blind” pretty well. I wrote that during the pandemic, at the very start of the pandemic and, yeah, I don’t know man, it’s just a cool song.

Yeah, so since I’ve been doing these interviews, with a few of them right as releases are coming out, I’m starting to pay more attention to how you construct a record, what order you put things in. And that’s kind of something that stood out to me with yours, it flows very well, it’s put together very well.

Tristan: The track listing is something we put a lot of emphasis on, we think about that a lot.

Well I mean that can make or break the record, like if you do it right it helps a lot. I was talking to Adrienne from Plasma Canvas out in Denver and they had a very cyclical approach to their record. It started off very soft with a piano hymn and then closed with another very soft song and it was done very well. And that immediately stood out about your release, how well it flows together.

Hunter: Cool, glad you feel that way. Thanks man. Yeah that definitely was important to us, to have flow.

So “You Dog” is another one where I think it demonstrates the variation in styles. Was that kind of a goal for you, having like a having a bunch of different styles, or did that just come naturally, were you just kind of writing whatever?

Tristan: Yeah it was just natural, you know just sitting around playing guitar, I came up with that riff on our couch. And I think that was one of the best parts about this record is it’s like not really trying anything, not really caring about it; more authentic and just feels more like ourselves and myself. So yeah this is one of those songs that sort of shows a different side.

So that’s the first half of the record, do you guys have any songs you’re particularly excited for people to hear, I know two of the songs on the first half are already released, but do you have any other ones you’re particularly excited for people to hear?

Tristan: I mean all of them really, we’re gonna make videos and basically every song’s gonna have like a video component. I’m excited for it dude, I’m excited to kind of let every song shine on its own.

Hunter: We’ve been playing a couple songs live on this last tour and coming up until the album comes out, we play the song called “Wanna Be” that’s been getting some good crowd reaction and I’m excited for that for one to finally drop. Also a later song, the last song on the record, “Hold Me Down”, is another great tune that we’ve been messing with live. It feels good to change it up a little bit, not just be that kind of like garage rock punk band that people have seen play live before, you know.

Coincidentally, that leads right in to “Wanna Be,” track 7. Tell me a little bit about that one, what the songwriting process looked like and kind of the meaning behind it.

Tristan: Yeah “Wanna Be” is just a song that, I guess it was a few years old at that point, and then I finally finished it. I was just like messing with the bridge and coming back into shit that I figured out during the pandemic. And yeah it’s just a love song really, that one felt really good in the studio early on when we were tracking the record.

Alright so then “Time,” that’s another one that kind of veered into it a different style I guess.

Hunter: Yeah “Time” was just another drum machine beat that Brian brought, it’s almost got a hip-hop vibe.

Yeah that’s another one that gave me Sublime vibes, but more of like the hip hop, Long Beach Dub All-Stars side. Sorry if this is getting a bit repetitive, I’m trying to keep from asking the same questions about each track.

“Each Time I’m Away,” that’s the next one. For like the last two tracks I didn’t really have many notes because they were both kind of different, not really what I was expecting from having last seen you guys years ago. I guess they kind of took me by surprise, I kind of saw the way the record was going, but wasn’t sure how you were gonna end, if you were going to have another hard-hitter or end softer. You guys were somewhere in the middle.

Tristan: Yeah “Each Time I’m Away” is the oldest song, like writing-wise. We played an acoustic show in Berlin in 2019, I had never played that song for any of the guys and I just like busted it out and they told me how much they liked it. So we made it into a song *laughs*. Yeah probably one of my favorite songs on the record.

Hunter: Yeah that song came together pretty quick, we didn’t really mess around with the structure at all, it didn’t really take much effort, it was just kind of there.

Tristan: Yeah even when I wrote it I think it was just kind of smooth sailing.

So then “Hold Me Down,” that concludes the new release. Was there any reason throwing that at the end, just thought it fit well?

Tristan: Yeah I just thought it sounded pretty at the end.

Hunter: And yeah it was the last two, we didn’t even actually do that in the studio yeah it was added on, Tristan and Brian put it together at Brian’s house in the garage and we really liked it. I think we jammed it during pre-production and I just fuckin’ always liked the tune, the melody was really good, but yeah these guys kicked it out.

Tristan: Yeah Brian and I recorded it in his garage and I was like back and forth kind of about recording it or even having it on the record, now it’s probably my favorite song on there, it just came out really pretty. Just, you know, a sweet song that I wrote in the studio by myself.

Yeah man so I think it’s cool, the whole groove of the record, it’s just a trip through everything that we’ve been doing and a lot of different music that we haven’t really represented on our other records.

Hunter: And during the pandemic we moved down to San Diego from Los Angeles too, and I feel like some of the songs are really just a reminder of that time of us being there together in that apartment in San Diego and the friends we had. The jam spot I feel is very crucial in writing and being together during all that.

Tristan: And this is like what we’re doing in our lives, there’s parts of it that are beautiful and parts of that are stressful. So I think between Hunter and I there’s all sorts of like natural intensity that comes and goes or whatever, we communicate with each other. So it’s all kind of there you know, it’s a trip to live your band.

Sweet yeah, so what’s to come after this, I know you guys just got back from tour, but do you have a record release show set up? Do you have a tour you’re looking at doing to promote this?

Tristan: Yeah we’re doing a tour next month with Direct Hit!, we have ten dates with them, it’s their 15th year anniversary so we’re doing a run of shows with them. We’re doing a split, we have some extra songs we recorded in a session in San Diego actually and it’s coming out a 7-inch on Dirtnap Records [OUT NOW!!!!]. And Direct Hit! made up a comic book for it as well, which is pretty cool.

Hunter: And then we’re doing Pouzza Fest in May out in Montreal, and then we’re going to Europe in June and July. Around June we’re planning a couple record release shows in California. Super excited about that, we’re planning to get together a bunch of friends for the record release show, so that should be fun.

Well that about wraps things up. Once again, congrats on this release, this thing’s killer!

Hunter: Yeah, thanks for doing this.

Tristan: Thanks dude.

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