Kevin Seconds, of the iconic punk band 7 Seconds, has been a crucial contributor to the punk scene since 1979. With one legendary band secured, Kev has kept himself busy during 7 Seconds’ downtimes with project after project – Drop Acid, Mustard, 5’10”, The Altruistics and Postively Ventilate, plus Go National and Ghetto Moments (with wife Allyson Seconds of the band Bag of Kittens) to name a few. With several splits and now his fourth release as a solo artist under way, (“Off Stockton” drops on February 18th on Rise Records) Kev is unarguably one of the steadiest workers in the business. Aside from all that, Kev and Allyson (who ran a café together for a few years) recently Kickstarted a label (Cheap As Nothing Records.) Kev also podcasts on occasion and is very active on social networking.
With such little time to breathe, Dying Scene was very grateful to Kevin for being generous with his time for this interview, and once I was done wishing a pox on him for informing me that he was couched in a warm and brightly lit café as I shivered in my snow boots, we got down to discussing his insane work ethic, manipulative pets, getting old, the celebrity mystique and more. Check out our full conversation below.
Dying Scene (DebNYC): So you released “Off Stockton” right as you’re finishing up a new 7 Seconds album (who also just put out an EP,) hitting the road with them, hitting the road solo, webcasting, running Sound Salvation, showing your art and keeping up with the Albuqurque WhosiWhatsits’ Super Bowl run – I guess my question is: when the hell do you sleep?
Kevin Seconds: You know, that’s a fantastic question! I actually do well on four to five hours of sleep. I’m up all night – that’s usually when I get everything done – so I usually sleep during the day. I get up around one and get right back to it, but I think as I get older, I just don’t need as much sleep as I used to. I’m also really big on – when and if I ever get the chance – the power nap. So, if I get to a club early, I’ll just the lean the chair back in the van and take like a forty-five minute nap and then I’m good to go.
I thought it was supposed to be ten to fifteen minutes for a power nap?
Probably, but if I nap for ten minutes, it’s not so much of a power nap for me. Forty-five minutes goes a long way; I’m good for the rest of the day/night, whatever.
So what you’re saying is that you keep the schedule of a ninety-seven year old.
I am (*laughing*) but if I look at it that way, I’m doing pretty good in terms of most of the ninety-seven year olds that I’m hanging out with.
Do you hang out with a lot of ninety-seven year olds, as a rule? A lot of ninety-seven year olds are into punk nowadays?
Yeah, because then it makes me feel young when they’re talking about all of their various illnesses. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a ninety-seven year old, actually. It’s a wacky, weird life. Luckily, I have a wife who sings and is just an amazing person. After twenty-something years of being with me, she gets it; she’s got quite a busy life herself.
Ally does a lot of your backup vocals, doesn’t she?
She’s got her own musical thing going, but she sings with me a lot and plays guitar. We don’t get to travel together too much because she runs her own business. We have two dogs and three cats and she’s Mama. They can live without me but they can’t live without her. On top of the fact that I’m smack dab in the middle of doing a bunch of solo stuff and 7 Seconds is starting to get back off the ground, (Ally) and I had a band in the late nineties, a mostly local Sacramento band called Go National, which was just a loud power-pop band. We got asked to do a reunion show here in town this April, so we’re in the middle of rehearsing and trying to get that together. I try to pretend like I’m a really prolific guy, but it’s really just insanity.
I find that I do the same – it really fools people too. (Kev laughs.) You guys actually had another band before, right, Ghetto Moments?
Ghetto Moments, yeah. I’d been doing a bunch of solo stuff, and I was missing playing with other people, but still wanted to do the quieter, acoustic-based stuff. She plays keyboards and guitar, and we always try and sing together as much as we can, so I figured if I made a band name up and then just sort of based a band around band name, that it would work, and it did. It’s still kinda going – we haven’t really done anything in about a year – but any chance we get to play together, we take. She’s also got her thing, and I play guitar and do harmonies for her, and help write songs and whatnot. We’re a musical family.
You are a musical family – you should get the pets involved, take a tour.
You know, our oldest dog, Lulu, has been to a lot of outdoor shows, and when we first opened up the second location of our old coffee house, she was a big part of that. We were doing a lot of live music: The Bouncing Souls played our packed patio. She’s really good with people and loud music. When she doesn’t get to go, she’s very temperamental and bitchy.
She’s pissed off at you.
Yeah. She’s great; she really loves music and people doting all over her, because she’s a really cute dog – she’s really good like that. We try to figure out ways to incorporate the animals, rather than just photos of them or whatever.
Well, Ally’s band is called Bag of Kittens, so I guess you just need some kittens.
Allyson just recently rescued a kitten along the American River Trail, and of course everybody fell in love with it, so now she’s part of the family and we’re running out of space in our house; it’s crazy.
I prefer cats, so I approve.
They’re the best! Growing up and to this day, my mom has always said “I’m gonna be the total cat lady” and sure enough, she is. To my knowledge, you go from having a cat to having a hundred cats. I love them, I love their personalities – even when they’re grumpy, they’re kinda funny. They’re cool.
We used to make fun of my cat – purposely make him hiss at us. We were kinda mean that way (both laugh.) So, with so many irons in the fire, do songs come to you with an identity already – do you know which project they’re gonna wind up fitting best with?
I guess so. Over the years, it’s become harder and harder to write songs for 7 Seconds – not because I can’t; there’ s never been a dry spell with me. I’ve always got a guitar nearby and I’m always recording bits of lyrics and melodies. For the last ten years, or however long it’s been since we put out a new record, (Editor’s note: it’s been eight. “Take It Back, Take It On, Take It Over!” was released in 2005,) I’m always writing ideas for fast punk rock songs, but the mentality of the band had been “Is it even worth putting out a new record? Who gives a shit? Is anybody in 2014 gonna buy a 7 Seconds record?”
Of course, a few will, but the reality is that a lot won’t. Some people don’t know who the fuck we are, and some people look at us as that old bunch of dudes who have been around forever.
Really? That’s really weird, because my twenty-one year old is actually the person who brought home the bulk of our punk albums – without my help – he bought them all himself. I think they know.
Yeah? That’s really encouraging, because I meet a lot of younger people who really love true punk rock, true hardcore music and they know the roots and the history, and I really, really appreciate younger fans who do – and there are those. You know what I mean, though: nowadays making a cd is like…there are labels who are not even going to do cds in the next year. It’s already like “Fuck cds.” On the road, on my own, I sell more of my artwork and my vinyl records than I do cds.
Well, you know, the kids are all into the vinyl now – they prefer it.
Right, which is great! That’s fine with me. With this new solo record, Rise is releasing the vinyl and then you get a little bonus cd inside, and the cd is the big deal, with the download code inside. So it’s all twisted up, but I don’t mean to say that I don’t think people don’t care about what we do – I know that they do – but when you’re dormant for a number of years, you’re just like “Wow, what are we going to do with this now, in this day and age?” When I’m writing, I’m trying not to think about that kind of crap – I’m trying to just write from the heart. Once it starts rolling, it starts rolling.
Some of the songs that we’re recording now for the 7 Seconds record have been written for like two to three years. I just had them and I demo’d them out to the guys and we eliminated the ones we didn’t like. We finally nailed about fourteen songs that everybody loves. We were like “Alright, we can play these songs and feel good about it.” It’s a process.
With the solo stuff, I’ll just write whatever I feel and I’m not embarrassed about being a little more emo or personal about things. With 7 Seconds – and this is my own hangup – I always feel like there’s a certain thing that I want to get across, which is usually “Let’s put messages in these songs, let’s not try and make people guess too much,” because I like in-your-face messages, you know? So I kinda get the best of both worlds I guess, by writing for both projects. It’s fun, I like it.
Well, let’s talk about your main inspirations a little bit for “Off Stockton.” What was bugging you while you wrote it, say, “My Recollection” or “O Let Me Try?”
“O Let Me Try” is more of an extension of a time when Allyson and I, after we closed our coffee house, realized that we didn’t have a lot to talk about like we always did for years and years and years. We weren’t communicating and we weren’t enjoying being together. We would work our asses off at our coffee house and then we’d get home and just sit on the couch and not have anything to say. It was just like “Wait a second, when did this start?” That was the beginning of us trying to really figure out what we needed to do to save our relationship – our friendship and our marriage. We also have musical and art stuff that we do together.
I think “O Let Me Try” was the end of when things started to look again. I was being less selfish and being a little more attentive to her ideas, feelings and needs. I think this record is a little more hopeful than the last few. For “Rise Up, Insomniacs!” I was in a sort of bummer, downer mode. I’m glad that I did what I did with the record and that I put it out there, but I wanted to sort of exorcise those demons, re-appreciate what I do have in my life that’s good and makes me feel like getting up every morning. So, I think this record is a little more upbeat.
I suppose any old guy or woman who makes records, art, whatever – we’re always reflecting back on
our lives. I’ve had a crazy, full, interesting life. You look back and you’re always sort of wondering if you’re relevant or not or whether you’re doing it for the right reasons. They’re all like mini therapy sessions, all of these records and the things that I do creatively, just trying to tap into what is wrong or right about me.
Which I think is really cool, by the way. As an artist, you wind up with a little blueprint of the ebbs and flows of your life – it’s neat. It’s eye-opening, too. Very cool ending the album on an encouraging note, actually – since we were just talking about that – with “Strip Your Soul.” You must get a lot of really sad stories told to you by people who feel comforted by your music – I would definitely have wanted to say something positive back to them too. Have you ever had a fan account really give you pause, like “Whoa, this person is a fucking survivor?”
Oh, yeah, tons! When people have done that, I feel so incredibly honored, almost not worthy – not because I’m not a good person, but because it’s a big thing to share. Whether it’s illness – physical or mental– breakups, a death, whatever, I’ve gotten a lot of that stuff. When I was younger, of course, it was mind-boggling, because, you know, you’re young, you’ve got your own issues, your own ego, your own kind of fine balance, so you just don’t know quite what to do. I always try to send an e-mail back, thank people for sharing this with me, but I didn’t want to ever be that dude that was like “I’m glad you’ve come to me.”
You didn’t want to sound like a priest.
Well, yeah! You know, some people do. I think some people just take on and play that role up, and I think there were times when I – not even realizing it – started to maybe speak like that, too and I was just like “No, no, no, this isn’t what this is about! This is just somebody who gets something from hearing this song – something has resonated between you. There’s a connection, and they just want to share it,” which is huge, you know? It’s just really, really cool – and I don’t know that I’m worthy of that, but it’s very sweet. It’s nice when people love your creative things – whatever they may be – enough to feel that connection. It’s a big deal – I don’t take that for granted. I try not to sit on it; I think that’s important not to do.
You keep fuck-ups on the albums; those are a great equalizer (Kevin laughs.) Keeping that wall down between band and fan, do you think that’s important?
I do, because that’s who I am – I am a fuck-up. I do procrastinate and I do flake and I do make mistakes, and I’m alright with that. It’s not always good that people display all that outwardly, but I think for me it’s partly a survival mechanism. I’m not big on the mystique – I know some musicians and other creative people are: they don’t want to give too much away, because they’re working on an image.
Realistically, in this day and age, where image and romanticized ideas of people are a big deal, and it’s a selling point, I’m probably slitting my own throat. I would say that what you see is what you get, but there is so much about me, there are a lot of layers that I don’t open up about. I just think, for my longevity in this whole nonsense, I would rather just make it so that people can approach me. I like talking to people, I like being social – I mean, there are times that I don’t, but it’s all part of it.
Punk rock music brought me out of the shell I had. When I was twelve, thirteen years old, I was a shy and introverted guy. I couldn’t even talk to girls if I had a crush on them. I had no game, I’d just freak out. Punk rock helped me feel around and find my voice, find the courage to get out and be engaged. I think that’s important, and I want to be engaged with fans and friends; I like being involved with them, I like the interactivity. It makes it more appealing to me.
On the flip side, does it get draining sometimes?
Not as much as it might seem like it should. I think the only time is when people somehow get my phone number.
The people with no boundaries.
Yeah, no boundaries, exactly. I guess, for me, it’s about finding that perfect balance. I’m like “Hey, Man, I’m approachable, but also I’m a human being, and I have my time that’s important to me, my privacy.” I’m not a celebrity, I’m not a rock star, so I can walk down the street and no one gives a shit, but there are those moments. It goes back to the people that have communicated with you and shared parts of their lives, and you’ve responded back, and now there’s a friendship involved there. The thing is that I’m also mindful of the fact that when you’re friends with somebody over the internet, it’s a different kind of friendship.
It’s a weird relationship, I know.
You and I could chat all night long, talking on the phone, and it’s great. Until we’re going to a movie or we’re having coffee, you’re guyfriend/girlfriend, whatever, it’s not a total relationship.
Uh-huh, you’re right.
So, I try and put that out there without sounding rude or like a shithead, but I think, relatively speaking, I’ve done okay with it, I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve been hanging out with some friends, like Ian MacKaye, at shows and I’m watching the way that people approach him. I’m grateful that people don’t really approach me at that level; I think it would make me hate what I do. He handles it well, but I think I really would turn into a shithead then.
Don’t you think that some of the blame has to be shifted onto the person that actually courts that mystique, like you started to say before? Maybe if you just walked around like a regular dude, people would stop acting that way.
I think when you do feed into that wall between you, yeah – I don’t know why people do it.
It’s fear, probably.
Fear, yeah – and some people just aren’t social creatures, you know? Some people really aren’t good at chitchat. I’ve walked into a laundromat and had someone come into the door, recognize me, and go “Hey, it’s Kevin Seconds!” A couple of times, I’ve been at a supermarket, and I’m in line, and I’ve got my ATM card out, and then someone in the line recognizes me. There’s like six people in between us and they yelled it really loud. There’s nothing you can do with that, you know what I mean?
Yeah, how do you turn that into a real conversation?
You can’t. You just sit there and smile like an asshole, which is what I do.
“You want me to sign something for you, Buddy?”
It’s just horrific.
Not every fan knows how to behave either. I have given more lectures to people – and I’m not even going to say that it’s young people, because, to be honest with you, it’s not always.
You’re right, you’re absolutely right.
This is often like 40 year olds, but I’ve always told people “Look, just be cool and the dude will be happy to be near you and have a conversation with you, but when you start acting irrational, you’re kinda freaking everybody out.”
A lot of times, they don’t know they’re being irrational.
They’re just excited, I know.
Yeah, and the other thing is that, because of the culture of celebritydom, it’s automatically assumed that everybody who’s playing in a band or doing something where some segment of the public knows about you, a lot of people assume that you crave that kind of attention. That’s their way of doing something nice for you, by asking you to sign something or having their photo taken with you – and I do all that stuff, if they ask.
While I’m out being a musician onstage, I try and put the word out on the internet and through e-mails and at my shows that you can feel and take these songs the way that you want and do what you want with the music, but just know that here’s what I’m putting across. You can say that it’s some sorta schtick “Aw, shucks, I’m just like you,” but I am, and I like it. I have my moments that are special, just like you and everybody else, but I don’t mind being just a good, hardworking human being, I think that’s underrated, you know? There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m 53 years old, and it’s not like it’s going to change any time soon; I think I’ve always kind of been this person. It’s just that now, after living in my own skin for this long, I insist on being the good person that I want to be, and you can take it or leave it.
To that end, you’ve never shied away from controversy – and you ran face-first into a fuckton of it when 7 Seconds signed with Rise. Why do you think there is such a disconnect between punk’s roots and it’s evolution for some of the younger fans?
I don’t know! You can probably answer that better than I can. Look, I became out of out of touch years ago, but I did a couple of acoustic sets on Warped Tour last year and that was very eye-opening for me. All of a sudden, I realized that whatever is being considered whatever-core is completely different than what it’s always been as far as I’m concerned. Of course, because I am allowed now sometimes, I’ll sometimes speak on it, and that will be enough for somebody to go “Oh, there he is: another old guy just being narrow-minded.” I never said I wasn’t narrow-minded! I try to not be, but I also am very protective. I still very much believe in the concepts and basic ideals of punk rock and hardcore, and I can’t not feel that way, I just can’t.
Look, I’m willing to step aside. If I had children, they could listen to whatever they wanted – I would even take them to shows – but my hope would be that they’ve got some soul and that they have enough of something inside of them that would crave more than just this flashy silliness, I don’t know. You know, it’s funny: an older friend of mine just said yesterday in a Facebook post “I wish my friend would finally realize that punk rock’s been dead since 1980-whatever.”
What?! Some of the greatest punk albums in the world were written in the nineties, what is he talking about?
Absolutely! I was like “Dude, you have no idea what’s happened between then and now.”
Uh, Jawbreaker, “Punk in Drublic,” “Dookie,” hello?
I know, I know, but this guy was a crazy punk rocker back in the day and then he kinda got his shit together. He stopped drinking, got a little more mature, met a woman who was something totally different – which is all fine, but because that world closed up for him, it stopped for everybody else (or it should have.) It hasn’t though, so he’s just emotionally retarded, unable to accept his adultness. It’s just like “Man, that’s a shitty way of looking at things.”
Honestly, yeah, when people get to be our age, they do seem to be living in decades ago. I’ll speak to people who know what I do and I’ll say “Yeah, I was covering a show this weekend” and they’ll go “Oh cool, I’m going to see REO Speedwagon next week” (Kevin laughs) and I’m like “Yeah, that’s not really what I was talking about, but…” Or you’ll say “punk” and they’ll say “Oh, Minor Threat!” Which, yeah we love them to death, they were amazing, but you know, it’s been a long time since then.
Yeah, it’s true. I’m still active as much as I can be – being in this band, we’ve never hung it up. We’ve taken some breaks, but we’ve always been a band, we’ve always stayed in touch, rehearsed, played shows. It’s interesting, because ten or fifteen years ago, an older band – I don’t want to say who – was that was playing again, and they were playing all of these little crappy bars, and they used to be one of those bands who was like “We’ll never play bars, they’ll always be twenty-one and over.”
To this day, in our entire almost thirty-five years of existence, we’ve played two twenty-one and over shows, and that was just because, in order to play the All Ages early show, you agreed to do a later show too. For us, even to this day, it’s still really crucial that we play All Ages shows because, believe it or not, there are still some younger people interested in listening to this kind of music, and it’s great.
Of course there are! The show that you guys played with The Bouncing Souls and Lifetime, my kid went. He was like “Oh, that’s fucking cool.” They’re aware. Actually, some of the kids have been embracing the Edge movement – with less violence, at least. So that’s a good development, right?
Yeah, because we all know there was some!
It got crazy there for a while.
It did, and no one can control it – all you can try to do is be a voice of reason in your own little pocket and encourage people to not act like shitheads. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do really – I’ve never felt like I could be the voice of a generation. Whenever there’s a fight at our shows, and we see it, we stop the set – we’ve always done that. When people are acting like a dick to women or to gay people, we’ve always stood out against that stuff very proudly, and we’ll always do that.
Things change, and I don’t know enough about what’s going on now, but what little I do know (and I think I’ve said this a million times, probably online,) for me it’s just very joyless. A lot of people look great and they have the best equipment and the best hair and the best van or bus, but there’s no fun! The Warped Tour demographic used to be like seventeen to twenty; now it’s like thirteen to fourteen. Yet the bands are still trying to put out the harder, “I hate my life” schtick and violence and “Fuck you!” but it’s so un-punk rock. It’s the process that happens when there’s too much access to rebellion and radical ideas. Now, you don’t have to have it really in your heart, you can just buy it somewhere or take a course.
You probably know this too: there was a time in my life when I bought shitty clothes because that was all I could afford! I couldn’t go buy cool clothes at a shop for fifty to a hundred bucks.
(*Laughing*) Yeah. I saw another artist who I follow on twitter tell a kid “In my day, your pants used to rip by themselves, you didn’t do that to them” (both laugh.)
I hear you! Of course, no kid should have to deal with having shitty clothes, and I’m glad that they don’t have to go through what a lot of us went through, but there is that recurring theme that I always go back to. I think the thing which is missing now is the danger. There was a genuine element of danger just going to a show, being at the show, walking into work and having to deal with your co-workers or people on the bus looking at your colored hair, your no hair, your Mohawk, and wanting to fucking kill you.
Sure, there’s that element maybe to a certain extent, but I’m glad that the danger is mostly gone. Although that’s what helped it grow in my heart, you know? It’s what made me feel like I was a part of something really, really important – not just to me, but to the world. That’s the thing: if young people would just have that attitude, I wouldn’t care what the bands sound like; I don’t expect to like it. It’s the attitude, it’s the mentality and the feeling inside.
Our label is full of bands that I don’t understand – they’re just not the kind of music that I listen to. Craig (Ericson,) the guy who runs the label, he gets it. He says “You know, I love these bands, but I understand why people wouldn’t.” When they started talking about 7 Seconds and sharing the video for our new single, it was such a negative thing, but I expected it; I wasn’t going to be disappointed. It’s how it rolls, it’s the cycle of this.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting old too, but you would think that it would have been the opposite. Labels used to catch shit for watering down and for the bands not being hardcore enough, and now it’s the other way. That’s weird.
Deb, I think we’re in a whole new world.
Yeah, I guess you’re right.
We’ve gotta kinda buckle in and just ride it out. We are doing our part, that’s how I look at it: we’re making a great fucking record. Hardcore kids that sort of know what hardcore meant ten, fifteen years ago, they’re gonna get it, and look, we’ve always had detractors. There’s always been people that hated 7 Seconds, but it’s not because we didn’t put our asses and our hearts into this fucking thing. It’s gonna be a really, really solid, great-sounded record and you know, whatever. I mean, if twenty people like it, that’s fine with me, because it means that’s twenty people who really fucking loved it.
Twenty years ago, we were touring constantly, and that was all that it was about for us. As much as I wish that we could tour again tomorrow and do this more full-time, we’re in a really good position here: we don’t have a whole lot to lose at this point. I don’t think that we’re going to lose money for the record label, and we got to make the record exactly as we wanted to make it. We’re with a label that’s just letting us be the band that we need to be, and that’s huge, you know?
And we’re all looking forward to that record. Kevin, thank you so much for your time today. It was a pleasure.
Thank you – I hope I didn’t talk your ear off!
Catch Kevin on the road: