Interview: The Bastard Suns on being DIY, touring, new music and the state of punk rock today

Interview: The Bastard Suns on being DIY, touring, new music and the state of punk rock today

Pulling a range of influences from reggae to Irish drinking songs it’s hard to fit The Bastard Suns into a specific niche of the punk rock genre but that doesn’t make their blend of infectious musical stylings any less potent. It’s rare to find a band that can master a variety of different sub-genres as well as the Suns have and even more rare to find a vocalist who can do the same.  I recently sat down with Clay Hiers, crooner of the Atlanta based punk outfit, to talk about the band’s influences, new music, the state of punk rock today, and why straddling different genres is both a blessing and a curse for a band that makes no compromises in staying true to what they love – their music.

Check out the full interview here.

Johnny X (Dying Scene):  Since 2006 The Bastard Suns have put out 2 full-length albums, a split with No Fuego and more recently a series of 4 EP’s called “A Band For All Seasons.” The EP’s were each named for the season you released them in (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) and each one featured a different branch of your musical influences, though all were decidedly still punk rock. I thought that was a pretty cool idea. Did you guys find they were well received in this format, or do wish you’d released the songs in a conventional way – like in a single album?

Clay (The Bastard Suns): Well, actually it’s been a mixed bag. From a DIY perspective, it was a great idea because we were literally paying for the Spring and Summer releases with the money made from selling Fall and Winter. Also, spreading the releases of the eps over a year like that meant there was something new to expect every 3 months or so. And from a conceptual standpoint, I think we realized the art, the design and the music perfectly, which ain’t easy to do.

On the downside, a lot of people are already asking about a new release, (including yourself) whereas I’m still recovering from the writing and design stress of getting the last project out! 16 new songs and 4 new covers is a hell of a lot of material, but because we split it up, I guess it doesn’t really seem that way to the public.

I guess I see your point.  Now I feel selfish. Your influences in the series range from gospel and country to reggae and surf. Which EP/style was the most fun to record?

I think we would all have trouble choosing one, because each one had such unique characteristics and great memories. We brought in Dan Francis (Mudcat Blues Band) to play washboards on the Fall album, and he’s just an awesome guy. While on tour in LA, we rented a practice loft to finish writing the Winter release at the last minute. We brought in my talented and beautiful girlfriend Whitney to sing on the Summer album, (she also did the cover art for all four EPs) you get the idea. It would be too hard to choose just one, but I do have to mention that Jason Andrews at Spotlight Sound made every recording into a good time. And we don’t even owe him money, so I don’t have to say that.

So you may have shot this down already but just to clarify, can we fans expect new music in 2012?

Now don’t get me wrong-we love the fact that everyone is ready for some new stuff, hell, we love the fact that people are listening at all. But the hard fact is that we still don’t have a label or really any monetary support at all, so we’ve gotta get back out on the road to earn some more recording money and hopefully our fans and friends will buy the new releases and all of our merch. That would be great. Oh yeah, and we do have one sponsor actually, Silver Surfer Vaporizers. And god bless ’em!

I’ll take that as a “maybe”.  If and when we do see a new release, wat kind of musical influences can we expect to hear on it?

You know, I write a lot of the songs myself, and even I don’t know the answer to that one. But I can guarantee more of the same genre-bending (that sounds uncomfortably like ‘gender-bending’) antics that have kept us happy all along.

Alright, I’ll take it! Now, over the years we’ve seen The Bastard Suns do a lot of cover songs. Any favorites among the band members? Any songs you guys currently have your eye on to cover next?

I think I speak for the group when I say that each of our covers has the potential to be our favorite, but it all depends on the crowd we’re playing to on that particular night. For instance, if we’re in our hometown or we’ve got a lot of homeys at the show, True Believers or Ball and Chain are perfect. But if there are a lot of ladies in the audience, (especially the bigger ones) then Fat Bottomed Girls will definitely be our favorite for that moment. Actually, for this past New Years, we broke into a cover of ‘Shout’, (the one from Animal House, not the Tears For Fears song.) You just never know what you’re gonna get from us. Or from a box of chocolates, apparently.

Indeed. When I first heard you guys it was off the split you did with No Fuego in 2007(?) and I was blown away. You guys have continually put out incredibly solid releases over the years and I’ve actually been really surprised to see you guys still putting out records DIY. A number of your songs seem to pay tribute to the “fuck ’em, we’re doing what we love and we’ll do it ourselves if we have to” ethos (“Underestimated” and “We’d Go For Broke” to name a couple); are you guys just waiting for the right label deal to come along or is DIY your preferred way to go?

This is a really good question and I’m glad someone finally asked it. I think we realized early on that we were exceptionally hard to categorize and that it would be difficult to find a label who understands us. We’ve always been too reggae/ska for the punk labels and too punk for the reggae/ska labels. And not Irish enough for anybody.

We expected this, and I think we’ve done an amazing job, especially considering that everything we’ve accomplished is due to our hard work. And we own all our own music rights, which is nice. But for some reason, as I said before, we’ve had a really hard time finding anyone to back us, whether it be a sponsor or label, and financial reality is slowly setting in. In the present day, it’s extremely hard for bands to keep going with no support. Venues don’t pay as well. Fans don’t buy music nearly as much. And if you want someone to book your shows, manage your money and help you get sponsors, then you’re basically gonna have to pay three separate people 15% each. The math doesn’t look good.

So to answer your question, we consider it a point of pride that we’ve made it this far on our own talent and skill, but if the right label came along and offered a little bit of help, it would be exactly what we need. I don’t think people realize that a touring musician can’t really hold a good job because of his schedule, so if the music isn’t paying his rent, he’s got some hard decisions to make. I think if people did realize our predicament, perhaps they wouldn’t ask to get in for free so much, or haggle with us over a $12 t-shirt. Sorry for yelling, just had to get that off my chest.

Perfectly understandable. In the last couple years the number of lead singers to put out solo, folk/acoustic albums seems to have skyrocketed. Are you toying with the idea yet?

Its funny you should ask that because while I’m not writing or recording right now, I have re-started an acoustic act with a few members of the band recently, and we’re playing some of the smaller spots around Atlanta. A lot of old soul standards and folk songs. So there you go.

You guys finally made it out West on tour and I missed it, which I’m not sure I’ll forgive myself for. Any touring plans for 2012? Think you’ll make it back to California again?

Well now you’re really gonna hate yourself, because you’ve actually missed like 5 tours out West! But yes, the California and Colorado crowds have made sure that we will always come back again.  The next west coast tour looks like it’ll last from St. Pattie’s Day to 4/20! How do ya like that?

I like that a lot! Having never been to Atlanta, Georgia, I have no idea what your local punk scene is like. Are there any places you’ve toured to that you’ve found have been particularly receptive? A place you might enjoy playing the most?

We’ve always been lucky enough to have a core group of fans and friends in Atlanta, so our shows rule. But I would have to say that the punk scene here overall is pretty terrible. The cops are bad around the venues, so people don’t go out as much. Because they don’t go out as much, not very many good bands tour through here. (And if they do, it’s always on a Tuesday or something). It’s a vicious cycle. Also we have a fun new breed of douche called the hipster, and let me tell ya, there’s lots of those. But they seem to be defined more by what they don’t like than what they do.
We’ll always love our home, but the West Coast, Florida, and a lot of the Rockies are just filled with more open-minded, nice people. They’re also filled with more craft beers and amazing weed than you can shake a stick at, and in most of the places, it’s all legal! Sign me up.

That’s a good lead into my next question actually.  You sing “The scene is dying, and no one’s keepin’ score” in the song “Lobrow Hijinks”. There are a lot of people who might agree with the notion that the punk scene is dying while some would argue its just evolving. What’s your take on the punk scene in general these days?

Well, people can say the scene is just evolving but let me assure you, whatever it’s evolving into certainly isn’t punk. It’s a rough time for any smaller band these days, and it might even be said that the live music scene is what’s dying. But the best thing to do is keep our collective head up, because there will be an upswing. People can’t live without new, good music and I’ll bet my life on that one. Oh wait, I already have….

Your “Band For All Seasons” series made it into the Dying Scene Readers Choice for one of the best punk releases of 2011. What are a few albums that would make it into your own list?

Well, the Damian Marley/Nas album was definitely getting a lot of play in the tour van, as was the Aggrolites release, I think it’s called Rugged Road? And I just found out that there is a new Flogging Molly out called The Speed of Darkness. Definitely gonna have to check that one out. Oh, and I actually ended up with a copy of the Have Nots new album and I’ve been listening to that for a while now. But overall, I didn’t think it was a very stellar year for new music.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions, guys. No joke, The Bastard Suns were one of the reasons I started Dying Scene in the first place – I needed an outlet to tell more people about bands like yours. It’s been a pleasure to finally get to interview you. Is there anything else you’d like the Dying Scene readers to know about The Bastard Suns before we sign off?

Sure. I’d like to let them know that what Dying Scene is doing is amazing. What we need are more sites like yours that give bands a chance and a forum not because of how they charted on soundscan, but because their music made you feel good. And thanks for the unsolicited compliment-I know you mean it because you don’t owe us any money.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published.