Let’s say, hypothetically, that you were a band that had achieved some modicum of success in a relatively brief period of time. For argument’s sake, our definition of “success” here includes the following parameters: signed to one of the most successful independent labels in the music game; put out not one or two but three albums on that label, all of whom were produced by one of the bigger and most recognizable personalities in the the punk music scene; headlined a couple of your own successful cross-country club tours; played the main stage at a handful of wildly successful punk rock festivals; toured several continents with one of the last quarter-century’s largest rock bands on the planet; got added to regular rotation at your hometown (Los Angeles) rock radio station which, in spite of prevailing trends, remains a taste-making force in the game. Oh, and let’s also say that all of these accomplishments – and more – happened within your first half-dozen years as a band. It would be natural, maybe even expected, if some of that love and those accomplishments went to your head, and you maybe started to take some things for granted, right?
Not if you’re The Interrupters.
We caught up with Aimee and Kevin from the band over the phone the Friday before last, which happened to coincide with the release date for their third – and best – studio album, Fight The Good Fight (Hellcat/Epitaph). Amidst the hustle and bustle that an album release date can entail, and after exchanging our usual pleasantries, we got interrupted (pun largely intended) by the duo receiving an incoming call that they couldn’t ignore, as it was from none other than Tim Armstrong. Armstrong is not just one of the godfather’s of the last three decades of punk rock, he’s been a constant big brotherly presence in The Interrupters’ career, signing them to his Hellcat label imprint right out of the gate, producing and appearing on all three of their albums to date, imparting his unique wisdom on the quartet along the way. For more than just the obvious reasons, The Interrupters are a band that considers itself and its crew a family, and Armstrong is as big a part of that family as anybody. And so the sheepish excitement in Kevin Bivona’s voice when we returned to our call and explained why they had to break standard informal phone-interview protocol and put me on hold was not only palpable, it was downright refreshing.
It would certainly not be the last time that our conversation would trend into events that were notably surreal. Any fan of the Interrupters knows that they spent a great deal of time touring Australia, Europe and South America as direct support for Green Day over the last year. It found the band not only getting to play their upbeat blend of punk and third-wave ska to a large number of new ears, it also created a situation where a different high-profile Armstrong, Green Day’s inimitable Billie Joe, ended up with writing credits on a song (“Broken World”) on the newest Interrupters album. Here’s how Kevin Bivona explains it: “We were in Santiago, Chile, and we played a show, and there were a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, so we were hanging out with Green Day and their families. It was an amazing experience. And (Billie Joe) goes “hey, I have an idea for a song that I think could be a really cool Interrupters song.” And he grabbed a guitar, and he kinda pulled Aimee and I aside and he played it for us, and he said “I don’t know, I think this would just be a kind of cool thing for you.” And he played it for us and we said “Yes! We love it!” Upon returning to the States, the band got to work on filling out the remainder of the song, and doing so in a manner that would do right by the Green Day frontman. “I wanted him to be proud, because he thought enough of us to give us this riff that he could have obviously turned into an amazing song for any one of his bands. We sent the song back to him right when we were done with it, and he texted us back that night and he was so excited about it and happy to be a part of it. It’s so surreal, too, to have a song with a riff written by Billie Joe Armstrong and produced by Tim Armstrong…”
If you’ve had a chance to dig in to Fight The Good Fight yet, you’re probably aware that Billie Joe’s involvement wasn’t the only surreal part of the album-making process. While Tim Armstrong has lent his iconic vocal stylings to a track on each of the first two Interrupters albums, FTGF’s “Got Each Other” finds each of Rancid’s members chipping in, an idea that came from Armstrong himself. “Matt and Lars are in the Bay Area, and Branden lives in Utah,” explains Bivona. “When it came time to get the actual recording done, we were kind of down to the wire, so we actually had Jesse and Justin get in our tour van, drive up to San Francisco, and set up a mobile studio to record Matt and Lars’ verses and run them back down. Simultaneously, I’m on the phone with Branden in Utah, and he has a studio in his house…He sang on the choruses with us, and he sent it to us to mix that night. It was really down to the wire.”
The result of the last-minute collaboration is textbook Interrupters: an infectiously danceable, high energy rallying cry preaching the timeless notions of friendship and unity. “I cried my eyes out when I heard all of Rancid singing with us on that song,” says Aimee. “The first time I ever heard Rancid in my life, when I was in high school, I cried when I heard “…And Out Come The Wolves.” I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world, and that other people understood me. We brought that message on “Got Each Other,” and to hear all of Rancid sing that message not just to me but through my speakers with me…”We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other”…I was so happy and so grateful, and I can’t really describe how full circle and surreal that moment was.“
While many of the tracks on Fight The Good Fight deal with themes that we’ve come to know and love from The Interrupters circa 2018, we also find the band digging a little deeper, turning their mirror inward in ways that were missing on the first two albums. Tracks like “Gave You Everything,” “Room With A View,” and “So Wrong” resonate as the band’s most personal – and arguably most compelling – tracks to date. Says Aimee: “I feel like when you write a song that moves you and touches you, and you’re going through an authentic experience and writing your truth, a lot of times for me that’s therapy. I’m writing to get things out and I need to process this stuff and this anxiety that’s happening in my heart and my mind. When I process that and put that into lyrics, if that helps me and gets me through it, then hopefully that can help somebody else. That’s what this is all about…loving people and helping people and connecting with people through your music.”
The band’s quest to bring their music and their positive energy to as many people as possible has generated numerous unforgettable experiences. As they get set to head out on the last leg of the final installment of the Warped Tour this coming weekend, they’re sure to add a few more to the list. “Just when we think we’ve checked everything off the bucket list, some new opportunity presents itself and we are blown away with gratitude,” says Bivona, the sincerity palpable in his voice. “Even doing the Amoeba Records in-store performance a couple nights ago was surreal. Getting added to our local radio station, KROQ, which is what we all grew up listening to, is surreal. There’s never going to be a time where there isn’t an amazing opportunity that we will be thrilled with.“
Head below to check out our full Q&A with Kevin and Aimee, and stay tuned for upcoming tour announcements in the very near future!
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): I saw the video that you guys posted earlier today (about the record release performance at Amoeba Records). That video looked pretty awesome, and I’ve never really seen anything quite like it at a record store. There were a lot of people there!
Kevin Bivona (guitar): Oh for sure…
Aimee Interrupter (lead vocals): It was insane!
K: It was pretty awesome.
How many people do they fit at a record store? I feel like we don’t have anything that big around here.
K: Well, they told us that fire code was 800, and they also told us that we had the most people of any in-store performance. All the staff that were working there said they’d never seen that many people.
They have a full stage set up at the record store?
K: Yeah! Can I put you on hold for one second? We’ll be right back!
(Pause for thirty seconds)
K: Yo! Sorry about that! I was getting another call from a number that you can’t really hit “Ignore” on…
Oh, it’s all good.
K: It was Tim Armstrong!
Oh shit! (*laughs*) Well, I mean if you need to go take that call, I’m happy to play second fiddle to Tim Armstrong!.
K: Oh dude, it’s all good! Today is our record release day, so we’re just hanging out. It’s just been such a great day. Tim’s such a big part of our band and our team and everything, that he’s just as much a part of this as any of us!
That’s one of the things I wanted to ask about…well, first off, congratulations on the album! I only finally heard it for the first time yesterday, but it’s already my favorite Interrupters album. Also, I know that I said that with the last one too, but I mean it!
A: Thank you!
K: Yeah, thank you so much!
A: We’re always just trying to get better at our craft, you know?
Do you get as nervous releasing a third album as you did maybe with your first one or the second one? Were there still a lot of pre-game jitters up until today?
A: I’m always nervous! But I’m also so excited to share it with people. There are a lot of emotions. I’m so overwhelmed by the love that we’re receiving. It’s a dream come true, really!
K: They call it a “record release,” and you truly feel a release once it comes out. You can finally breathe out, you know what I mean? You work so hard on something, and you release little bits out — like, we released “She’s Kerosene,” then we released “Title Holder,” then “Gave You Everything” the other day, and we’ve been wanting to share the entire album with people since the beginning. It’s hard to wait, you know? We’re just so happy and we feel a lot of love. It definitely feels different in a great way.
It just dawned on me that “Say It Out Loud” turned two years old earlier this week. It seems like that was a quick turnaround between albums; you don’t really see bands put out an album every two years nowadays. Is that a conscious decision between you guys or between Tim and Hellcat or a combination?
K: You know what’s interesting is I don’t pay too much attention to other bands and timelines. For us, we toured so much on Say It Out Loud – we did the entire Warped Tour, we did a world tour with Green Day, and in between that we did a headline tour with SWMRS, we did Coachella, we did so much that even though it was two years, it felt like five. We’d already started writing, that it just felt right to put another record out. We’d done so much touring that we were ready for more; we wanted to put a new album out and tour on that, rather than go around the world again playing the same songs. The time was right for us!
Did you write while you were on the road? Although you guys were on the road for so long that I feel like that’s an obvious “yes”…
A: We’re constantly writing. We never stop – we were writing on the road, we were writing in the studio. We had thirty or forty song ideas, so we had a lot to choose from and a lot to develop. It was a process, but it was really fun.
K: I think also as songwriters, if you’re constantly writing but sometimes you’re too busy to go in and record, you can forget about the songs that you wrote in between tours. For this album, we definitely got together and we just went through everything we had. We made sure that nothing was forgotten about and that everything got a fair shot, so when it was time to record, we made sure we had the strongest stuff that we had written.
Thirty or forty songs seems like an awful lot! Is that a common thing for you guys, or was that especially prolific?
K: You know, we’re all writers, and we all bring something different to the table. For example, the song “Gave You Everything” on this record…when Aimee and I started writing songs together, Pre-Interrupters, that was in the first batch of songs that we ever wrote.
A: Yeah, “Easy On You” was first, and “Gave You Everything” was the second song that we wrote together.
K: We had that song, and it didn’t fit the vibe of our first record, it didn’t really fit the vibe of our second record. This time around, though, it’s almost like the whole lineup bats around again, and then that song came up to bat again and it was a home run for us this time around.
I take notes when I sit down and listen to a new album for the first time, and the notes that I put next to that song are “I think this is my favorite Interrupters song!”
A: Oh thank you!
K: It did stand the test of time internally for us, at least. To hang on to a song for that long and have it stand up against new stuff that we were excited about…thank you for saying that. It means a lot.
A: And it’s a true story. A lot of our songs are, but that one is especially true.
That’s a thing that I wanted to talk about. Some of these songs – they’re obviously “Interrupters” songs – but some of them seem a little bit more personal to you guys in the band and written more first-person. There’s (“Gave You Everything”), “So Wrong,” “Room With A View”…those songs seem a little bit more closely personal than songs on the last two records. Is that accurate?
K: I don’t know if that was intentional…when we did the first record, we were just so excited. We were a brand new band. I just feel like as a band we’ve developed, and we put more of ourselves in our songwriting. Also, traveling and touring and playing shows, you see what songs connect with people. If you’ve got a handful of songs that you’re working on, you’ve got a couple of songs that sound like this, and a couple of songs that sound like that, and maybe you’ve got one song that reminds you of something that you know connects with people, so you want to go with the ones that you think are going to connect with people and help people out. Especially this time around. There are crazy times in the world right now, and everyone is living day-to-day, Music has helped us so much…
A: And I feel like when you write a song that moves you and touches you, and you’re going through an authentic experience and writing your truth, a lot of times for me that’s therapy. I’m writing to get things out and I need to process this stuff and this anxiety that’s happening in my heart and my mind. When I process that and put that into lyrics, if that helps me and gets me through it, then hopefully that can help somebody else. That’s what this is all about…loving people and helping people and connecting with people through your music.
There’s something a little deeper still on this album. The first couple I’m sure have helped people – I’ve found that personally for myself – but I feel like there’s an even deeper meaning to a few of the songs this time around, and I feel like we all kind of need that now. Everything seems insane every single day, even just waking up and checking the news.
K: It’s maddening. A lot of people are upset and a lot of people are divided, and the beautiful thing about music is that it’s the one thing that can unite people. It can resonate on an emotion that makes you realize everything’s going to be alright, and if that happens with even one person from listening to our music, then it’s all worth it.
A: And people know that they can come to our shows and they can leave the news outside and leave their troubles outside and enjoy a moment of unity with all of us as one big, crazy, happy family.
K: All of those anxieties that you have from the day-to-day, you can release them all at the show. You can get in the circle pit, you can dance, you can scream at the top of your lungs. We’re all doing it on stage. It’s just a big party in there. It’s all we’ve got!
There are a couple songs that I was hoping to get a little deeper into with you. “Broken World” is one of them. It’s sort of standard operating procedure for a lot of ska and punk bands to have rallying cries about unity and all that, and that’s awesome, but I feel like “Broken World” goes a little bit deeper in asking the listener to look in the mirror and to make sure that you’re actually doing something to help promote unity. You’re not just saying “unity, unity, unity!” you’re actually asking what people are doing to help make things better, and I think that’s a really cool and interesting message that we don’t always hear a lot of.
K: I think the thing is that we’re all guilty of trying to just be right, or to think that “my way is THE way.” I think sometimes a little self-reflection helps. And love…
A: The world needs more love!
K: The world needs more love, and I think that the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, that “darkness cannot drive out more darkness, only light can do that” is perfect. The other cool thing about “Broken World,” is that the riff of that song (*sings riff*) and the chord change in the chorus with the melody that goes with it is something that was given to us by Billie Joe (Armstrong) from Green Day when we were on tour with them. I’ll never forget it. We were in Santiago, Chile, and we played a show, and there were a couple of hours before we had to go to the airport, so we were hanging out with Green Day and their families. It was an amazing experience. And (Billie Joe) goes “hey, I have an idea for a song that I think could be a really cool Interrupters song.” And he grabbed a guitar, and he kinda pulled Aimee and I aside and he played it for us, and he said “I don’t know, I think this would just be a kind of cool thing for you.” And he played it for us and we said “Yes! We love it!” So we took that riff home and we built the song around it. Tim (Armstrong) produced it and recorded it, and the whole time I was thinking “I can’t wait to get this back to Billie Joe, I want to do right by him.” I wanted him to be proud, because he thought enough of us to give us this riff that he could have obviously turned into an amazing song for any one of his bands. We sent the song back to him right when we were done with it, and he texted us back that night and he was so excited about it and happy to be a part of it. It’s so surreal, too, to have a song with a riff written by Billie Joe Armstrong and produced by Tim Armstrong…
A: Mind blown! (*laughs*)
K: Totally. It was such a thrill. And I feel like the message of the song, too, is important right now. Not to be all preachy or whatever, but it’s something that is important to us and I hope that it resonates with people.
It totally resonated with me from first listen, and that story is awesome. I kinda wanted to ask anyway about there still being things that you find surreal, or has it become just part of the process now? Like, “oh, we’re playing a big stadium show in Chile with Green Day? That’s just what we do now.”
K: Well, you know, it’s our third record, and you’d think that after a while you might get jaded. Making music with Tim Armstrong is still so surreal to us. When we get in the studio and we’re working together, he’s one of our musical heroes as a songwriter and a producer and a band guy. On this record, another surreal moment was him telling us he wanted to bring in the rest of the Rancid guys on the song “Got Each Other.” We just have one little verse of that song. We had played it for him and asked what he thought we should do with it, and he goes “oh, that’s gonna be the one that I sing on…”
A: We always ask him to sing on one song. He did “This Is My Family” on the first record, and “Phantom City” for the second record. We are always trying to figure out what song we can get him to sing on-
K: And if you want to know the full truth, we try to get him to sing on as many songs as possible.
A: Oh yeah, we push it.
K: He’ll be like “no, you guys got this one.” But for “Got Each Other,” that song hooked him in a way where he said “I can see the rest of the Rancid guys switching off verses.”
A: And we were like “Yes! How do we do that?” And he said “We call them up!” So he called them up – (**editor’s note: I desperately wanted to ask Aimee to go back and answer this question in Tim’s voice, but I balked and will regret it forever.**)
K: Matt and Lars are in the Bay Area, and Branden lives in Utah. When it came time to get the actual recording done, we were kind of down to the wire, so we actually had Jesse and Justin get in our tour van, drive up to San Francisco, and set up a mobile studio to record Matt and Lars’ verses and run them back down. Simultaneously, I’m on the phone with Branden in Utah, and he has a studio in his house. He’s like “what do you want me to do?” and I said “just sing, and do the ‘1-2-3-4!’ and all this.” He sang on the choruses with us,” and he sent it to us to mix that night. It was really down to the wire.
A: I cried my eyes out when I heard all of Rancid singing with us on that song. I grew up listening to Rancid. Rancid were my musical heroes. The first time I ever heard Rancid in my life, when I was in high school, I cried when I heard “…And Out Come The Wolves.” I felt like I wasn’t alone in the world, and that other people understood me. We brought that message on “Got Each Other,” and to hear all of Rancid sing that message not just to me but through my speakers with me…”We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other”…I cried. I cried so much, because I was so happy and so grateful, and I can’t really describe how full circle and surreal that moment was.
I was sort of trying to think about The Interrupters in the context of music in a broader sense. I’m 38 and I grew up in the Boston area, and so I grew up actively listening to Rancid and NOFX and Pennywise and all those bands, but we also had the Bosstones and everybody that was inspired by them in this area, and there was a whole scene that pulled itself together there for a while. I don’t know that we necessarily have a scene like that anymore, but I was trying to fit the Interrupters into all of that, and even though you guys became a band in the generation after Rancid, I feel like you guys became peers with them and bands on that level right away, if that makes sense.
K: If that is how we’re seen, than that just shows the welcoming community of Rancid and the Rancid family and the punk rock community in general in that way. We still feel like we’re the little brothers.
A: So many of our musical heroes have brought us on tour with them…Green Day, Bad Religion, Rancid, The Bosstones. Those are people we grew up trying to sing and play and write like. We can’t really get over it.
K: These bands wrote the book. They wrote the handbook on what we’re doing right now. We still look up to all these guys; we don’t look at it like we’re their equals, and I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to. That’s very nice of you to say, but we’re just happy to be given the opportunities that we’ve been given.
I feel like you guys and Bad Cop/Bad Cop both came right out of the gate in that Fat Wreck Chords/Epitaph “thing” and quickly became part of that scene, but I don’t feel like many others have done that on that level. I feel like you’ve both bridged that gap, like Stacey can share a stage with NOFX and sing “Lori Meyers” and it just makes sense. Even though they’re “little brothers” or whatever.
K: They’re such great songwriters and they’ve made two strong records —
A: We love them as people and we love them as songwriters, we loved touring with them.
That stop on that tour here in Boston still ranks as one of my favorite shows. I think since last time we talked for Dying Scene a couple years ago. You’ve done Warped Tour, a full US tour with Bad Cop, a full US tour with SWMRS, opened a full tour for Dropkick (Murphys), basically toured the Australia and South America and Europe with some of the biggest bands ever…do you still have things left to check off the bucket list? (*laughs*)
K: Always. And just when we think we’ve checked everything off the bucket list, some new opportunity presents itself and we are blown away with gratitude. Even doing the Amoeba Records in-store performance a couple nights ago was surreal. Getting added to our local radio station, KROQ, which is what we all grew up listening to, is surreal. There’s always going to be something. There’s never going to be a time where there isn’t an amazing opportunity that we will be thrilled with. We want to tour as much as possible and play music for as many people as possible, and we’ve been really lucky in that.