DS Interview: Rebuilder’s Sal Ellington on “Local Support,” the band’s reenergized new album (and label shopping, and #thebiz, and Salfies, and much more)!

The list of things that can get in the way of a band releasing new music out into the world is a long and winding one. Band member changes, creative lulls, global pandemics, Adele misreading the market and pressing like 500,000 copies of an album that’s destined for thrift store shelves, national social and political unrest, record labels going belly-up at the last minute due to the indiscretions of someone in their orbit, etc. Or, if you’re Boston punks Rebuilder, some combination of all of the above.

In what I guess is the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known and been friendly with the foursome (Sal Ellington and Craig Stanton -vocals/guitar, Daniel Carswell – bass, and Brandon Phillips – drums) that is the core of Rebuilder for just about as long as Rebuilder have existed as a band. Their 2015 debut full-length, Rock And Roll In America, is one of my favorite albums that has come out of this area since I started writing for Dying Scene a dozen years ago, and their follow-up EP, 2017’s Sounds From The Massachusetts Turnpike, is even better.

And yet, as wonderful and honest as those records were and as formidable and authentic a live band as Rebuilder have been, there is also the sense that that could have – probably should have – been more successful if not for being seemingly snake-bitten at many turns. The music industry being what it is, the economics involved with being in a band that takes off when you’re closer to 30 than 20 are different now than they were a generation ago, and so when label support is either lackluster or never materializes, or pre-Covid tours fall apart (looking at you, Europe circa 2017), it can test the intestinal fortitude of band members with growing responsibilities and wavering desires to continue the “grind” well into their thirties.

With some of that as a backdrop, Rebuilder set to work on the follow up to …Mass Turnpike several years ago. What eventually turned into Local Support – which was officially released on August 11th on Iodine Recordings – became a labor of love and devotion in the very truest senses of those words. After years of false starts and working through both internal and external issues, the band reconvened and put out what sounds like their most focused collection of songs yet; eleven tracks that are about as honest and soul-bearing as you could ask for, with myriad influences woven through the mix, creating increased color and texture that broaden the scope of their pop punk infused roots. Panic State Records, which released their first two records, has folded, so after an extended period of shopping the record, they finally landed with a new label home, associated with a certain Pittsburgh political punk band. And we all know how that turned out. At what was seemingly the 11:59 hour mark, Iodine Recordings swooped in and saved the proverbial day and the album came out – at least digitally – as expected on August 11th.

Rebuilder plays their long-awaited album release show tonight – September 1st – at the Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, and they’re playing alongside a powerhouse lineup that includes No Trigger, Choke Up, and Trash Rabbit. Tickets are still available. Keep scrolling here, not only to listen to Local Support (seriously, you should do that…it’s great!) but to check out our long and far-reaching interview with Sal Ellington, the band’s one-of-a-kind co-frontman. Sal has been in and around the music industry for most of his adult life – hell he’s even got a degree in music business – and he’s got a very unique take on the state of the industry that he delves into in his periodic #TheBiz Instagram feed. He’s also better known in some circles for his “Salfies,” which grew out of a crude tour joke and ended up becoming a mechanism for helping to tackle years of fear and doubt and insecurity. This was a fun and compelling one…we talk a lot about the various starts and stops that went into the writing and recording process, the state of the band’s various members and their renewed commitment to the cause, the use of songwriting as a way to process mental health struggles, and obviously the snafu with their previous label and trying to find a new one at the very last of possible minutes. Enjoy!

(The following has been edited and condensed for content and clarity’s sake. Yes, really. It also picks up semi-midstream but you’ll catch up pretty quickly.)

Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Well Iodine Recordings is putting the record out. How did that come about so quickly? Obviously, this whole situation has been shitty for everyone involved for the last few weeks.

Sal Ellington (Rebuilder): It has been a fucking nightmare.

So that’s an interesting place to start, and I wasn’t sure how comfortable you were talking about some or all of that…

You can ask me about whatever. Part of (Iodine) taking it over, was for the record to come out on the 11th. I wanted the record to be out before the record release show weekend. The set for that show is heavy on new stuff, and it doesn’t make any sense for us to go out and play a whole bunch of new songs if nobody knows them. When we were originally in talks with A-F, they wanted it to come out on September 1st and I said we needed to move it back a couple weeks so that people have a chance to hear the songs and get to know the songs before the show. So that’s still the plan with Iodine taking over. However, I think the delay will be in getting the pre-orders out for people. The pre-orders were involved in this snafu. The record plant reached out to me and were cool. They said “Hey, we saw everything that happened. Is anything changing with this release?” And we said, “Yeah, is there any way you can take the (A-F Records) logo off?” And they could, so they took the logo off and kept pressing the record, which was awesome. I’m stoked that they did that. However, it delayed when it was going to get in the hands of either A-F or us.

With the logo now off of the record itself, because A-F used to do things piecemeal, we now had to talk to whoever was doing the jackets, and I think the jackets are too late to be redone. I think the jackets are already on their way to us, and I think that I just connected with the people who did the jackets this morning and they said “Send us the new artwork, we’ll see what we can do.” Literally an hour ago I got a notification that said something like “The jackets are being shipped to you, look at your shipping times.” So, we might be too late for that part now. So I said to Iodine, if we need to do new jackets, if that’s the one thing we have left, then we need to find someone to rush order new jackets because we have a tour that we haven’t really announced yet that’s happening in September, so I need records for our release show and I need records for the tour. That’s basically where we’re at for now; trying to make sure that we have records for both of those things, which we will, it’s just a matter of are they going to have an Iodine Recordings logo, or are they going to have a Rebuilder sticker covering up an A-F Records logo…

I was going to say, can’t they print out Iodine stickers that match the same color and slap them over there? I mean, it’s a pain in the ass, but I feel like that’s not super uncommon and it’s less of a pain in the ass than printing all new jackets. 

Yeah, I ordered the stickers already, and I think they’ll actually be at my house today, so I have to have my roommate ship those to A-F because there are pre-orders that need to go out. But it’s one of those things where Iodine was like “You’ve worked so hard on this record, we don’t want you to have to put the record out with a sticker over it, making it look haphazard and unprofessional, so if all we have to do is order new sleeves, then let’s just do that. 

What a shitty situation but at least you’re rolling with it and making the best of it. 

Yeah, I think we’re trying to make the best of it and I think it’s one of those things where none of us wanted to deal with this. This is not what I had planned for the release of something that I’ve spent so long working on. I think that Chris Stowe, who runs A-F Records, certainly never wanted this to happen either, as well as anyone else who is attached to any fallout from Anti-Flag, from the victims to the people who work for the band. There are people who have lost their careers due to this. We didn’t lose our career, so I feel like what we have to go through is annoying for us, but it’s not this life-changing thing.

Oh for sure, you have to compartmentalize that stuff. And it seems like A-F was just gearing up to put out a whole bunch of new things between now and the rest of the year, and so there are a handful of bands who are in similar situations where the gears are already turning and things are too far along. 

It would have been one of those things had it just been an announcement that we had signed to A-F and there would be an album in the Fall. We could have just made an announcement like “We’re just not on A-F anymore, we’re going to take some time to figure out who is going to put it out,” and that’s it. Or if it had been a year after our record came out, we could have been like “It’s terrible what happened. We’re not on A-F anymore, any copies that we make going forward from this are just going to be on our own.” Instead, we’re right in the middle. (*both laugh*) Things are literally shipping now, and every single hour of the day for me is spent trying my hardest to basically do chaos control on this thing as well as doing my actual job, and trying to finish doing this tour, and all the stuff that comes with it. Yeah, it’s not what I envisioned for this record.

Seriously, first full-length record in eight years or whatever it is and this is the hand your dealt.

Yeah. I know it’s our second full-length, but I always felt like (Sounds From The) Massachusetts Turnpike was our second real record. It’s not as many songs, but I do always think about that when I think about that record. So then this is our third record, for sure. I think it’s our strongest, and I do really, really love this record a lot, and I hope people do too, which is why I don’t want anything distracting from this record or taking away from it. Behind the scenes, there are a lot of things distracting from this record and it’s like…thank god I don’t post every single minute of every single day what’s going on with it, because I can get mentally fried with it. But I just want people to know that the record is coming out, it’s going to be a bit delayed getting to you, but it will still be out digitally on all the streaming sites anyway. You’ll just have to give it a bit til you get your copy in the mail. I hope that people understand that the delay in getting their copies in the mail is that we now have to deal with all the bullshit that came along with this. What the customer has to deal with is getting the record a little bit later than they would have They’ve had to deal with that with records that didn’t go through anything problematic, they had to go with it just because Taylor Swift put out a record and bumped other people’s. 

Oh for sure, everyone is used to that since Covid. I can’t remember a record coming on time. Except maybe the Dave Hause record because I don’t think he announced the record until he had the physical copies or something like that, so that when people pre-ordered it they were just sending it out from Tim’s garage. But that’s a different way of doing it.

It’s funny because Dave was one of the people who early on called me about this record. He knew I was trying to find a home for this record so I sent it to a ton of friends and asked what they thought about it and who should put it out…all those questions you go through every time you put our a record. It’s almost half a year or a year of pitching it to people when you don’t have a home for your record. And I sent it to Dave and he said “Well, what do you want to happen with this record, man? Where do you want it to go?” And I said “Well, these are the labels I was thinking of. This is where I think it should go because I want the most eyes on it, because I think it’s important.” And he was like “Yeah, man, but why don’t you just release it yourself? That’s what I do with my records?” And I was like “Yeah man, but you have a huge audience, you know?” And he was like “Well, how many records did you sell when you did it on your own for the live record.” So I told him and amount, and he was like “Alright, I do probably the same number, just scaled up by X amount. It’s all a matter of how you scale it. I think that you guys could do the same thing. Put out the record on your own, it’s going the mean the most to you anyway. Pay for the PR and do it that way.” And I would have done it that way, for sure. It’s nice to know that we can do that. I just think that we went with A-F because they have a great presence at FEST, and we always do really well at FEST, and Chris Stowe who ran the label is a great friend and has always supported bands who have been on it. We’ve had friends who have been on their label and they did well. It wasn’t going to blow us up, but it’s people that believe in the record, so that’s why we decided to go with them. I think Dave was right, we could put it out ourselves, but having it in the hands of people who believe in it was the way to go. That’s why now, working with Iodine is working with people who believe in it and believe in our band. 

Did they reach out to you after the A-F thing or did you hit them up?

They did. They reached out to us.

That’s got to be a good feeling. 

For sure. I was like “I’m not going to start reaching out to labels when this is supposed to be out in less than a month.” Like, how do you sell that to anyone? (*both laugh*) Hi! I have this record coming out and now it’s attached to this controversy, do you want to put it out now?”

Right! “Hey, do you want to wade into this shitstorm?”

For sure. But I know that Iodine has worked with Jay Maas who recorded this record, and they talked to him about it and asked if he thought Rebuilder would be interested in having them help put the record out. And the thing is, nobody HAD to come to us to help with our record, so the fact that they did come to us and say “Here’s what we can do, let’s jump on a call immediately and try to make this happen,” I really appreciated that. 

Had they heard it at that point?

I think they had. I think Jay had sent it over when we were looking for a label, but I don’t think that we ever had the conversation because I think once they saw that we were talking to A-F, they were like “Yeah, that makes sense.” There are more bands already on that label with our sort of poppier punk sound than there were on Iodine. But I’m glad they had seen a position to help and that’s what they jumped on. So I think they had heard it already, I just didn’t know if they liked it (*both laugh*). I never really know. You always hear things like “Iodine liked your record” and it’s always like, “Well, what does that mean? Does that mean they think it’s a cool thing that we’re creating, or does it mean that they want to be a part of it?” I remember early on, someone was like “Oh, so-and-so at SideOneDummy really likes what you’re doing.” And I was like “Wow, that’s cool!” And then that was the end of the conversation. (*both laugh*) I was like, “Okay, so what do I do with this information?” (*both laugh*) Like, “Oh good, another thing to think about…” I’m pretty sure I did think about it for a solid month straight before I just finally stopped.

I’m really excited for people to hear this record. I’ve finally had a chance to dig into it the last couple of days, and it’s really good. I don’t just say that because I’ve known you guys forever; it’s really a good record. I know that it’s super cliche to say that you hit another level or whatever, but I feel like you really pushed yourselves. It’s really good.

Thanks! Yeah, I do feel like it’s our most diverse record in terms of what we were trying to accomplish on it. I just never know if that’s going to mean anything to an audience or in general. I always feel like we’re a band that’s still growing. We can’t just announce a show and have it sell out right away. And because I think we’re still growing, I get concerned with, like, “Are we allowed to do this? Are we allowed to be weird and different?” I think a band like Turnstile can do that and it’s a home run, you know what I mean?

Yeah, but it wasn’t a home run until they did it. They took some chances and it worked. I like when people do that. Obviously, it’s fine to have a sound or something that keeps you grounded, but I like that people continue to grow. You’re not 20 or 30 anymore, you know?

I think it’s cool when bands take chances. There are definitely times when bands take chances though and you’re like “Well, I wish they hadn’t done that” and I don’t want to be on that side of it, you know? 

That last song especially, “Disco Loadout,” it’s got pedal steel on it so obviously it’s an Americana song, and yet it’s got horns on it so obviously it’s a ska song, and yet, it’s very much a Rebuilder song. For some reason, those things fit contextually with that song, but it doesn’t sound like any other Rebuilder song. 

What’s funny is we had probably played that song a couple of songs live back when …Mass Turnpike came out. Around that time, anyway. When we were looking at what songs would be on …Mass Turnpike, that was a song we liked a lot, but you need the journey to get to that song. To end an EP on it feels like you didn’t give people enough time to get there and to understand it. In the Rebuilder Venn diagram, it doesn’t fall smack in the middle. But I always had the ambition for how the song should go, with the pedal steel and the horns and everything. It really needed to be recorded and heard for people to listen to it and get it. Craig (Stanton) was like that too. He said, “I really didn’t see this song coming to be the way that it was, and I’m glad that you followed through on it.” I’m super happy with how that song came out. I think it’s super cool. I think it’s a really ambitious song but at the same time, I think that the skeleton of the song is still a good song. I’ve always thought that you know that a song is a good song if you can listen to it as a country version or a punk rock version or a ska version, it’ll sound good however you do it because the songwriting stands up. That’s how I view that song. 

Between that one and “Look Down Club,” I think I might have a couple of new favorite Rebuilder songs. That “Look Down Club” is a cool song.

I like that song a lot. I think that was an older one too. I think we at least had the idea of that song around during …Mass Turnpike and it was in the column of “this could be on a full length.” But we didn’t have the key parts written until the end. We always add keys at the very, very end, and I think the keys made that song sound so cool. I think it’s a very cool song to open up Side B.

Yeah, that big intro to it…if it wasn’t going to kick off Side A, it makes sense to have it kick off Side B. Or to kick off a show. Starting that side of the record with “Look Down Club” and ending it with “Disco Loadout” is pretty gnarly. 

Yeah, and I think Side A has, I think, so many bangers and so many hooks that we needed Side B to have its own weight, and I think it has its own weight in a different way, for sure. That song could open a set, but I think you could also close a set with it too. It fits so many things. It’s super cool. I like a lot of the guitar work we do on it. In the studio, you cn adjust add more stuff on top of it and keep adding, which is what I love to do. Then it just kinda takes on its own thing.

At least vocally, this is a very “Sal” record. It’s much more you than Craig out in front; I feel like Craig has maybe two that are essentially his, at least vocally.

One of the things that happened with this record was, I think it was right before the pandemic, the end of the year before, we kinda had the idea to record maybe seven of the songs that we had? I think we had been doing a lot and we basically got to a point where everyone in the band was kinda burnt out from having to grind really hard and maybe sometimes not have a lot of reward for it. You can only grind so hard and not get anything for so long before you think “why do I keep doing this?” But I think we’re all friends who love playing with each other and it’s fun for us to do. As much as I wish we made enough money from this band where this was everyone’s full-time job, and then we can focus on this and, yes, life happens but we’re able to provide for our lives because of this…we can’t do that.

So when life is happening, like, for example, around the time that Daniel (Carswell, bass) was newly sober and he wasn’t really super in love with having to be on tour and go into clubs and be around people who are drinking all the time, because he was still trying to figure out how to be sober. And Brandon (Phillips, drums) had taken on a new job and he and his wife had already had talks about having a kid. And then Craig I think around then joined a local hockey thing that he started being a part of and he didn’t really have a lot more songs to contribute to this, and he wanted to do something else. My goal was that I wanted to keep doing Rebuilder and I wanted to do this record, and I was about to have a complete mental breakdown from everyone being like “This is where we are in life, and maybe where we are in life isn’t aligning with where you want things to be with Rebuilder right now.” I was like “Well, let’s go into the studio and record what we have,” and that got cut down from like seven songs to I think five songs. No, it got cut down from eight to five, and I think there were three songs that Craig thought needed more time to develop, but he thought the other five were strong. We did go in and record those five and we got them down and we did that whole session and then the pandemic happened. The record got put on the back burner because we aren’t practicing, we aren’t seeing each other. Everything else takes on precedence ahead of making a record.

So then me and Daniel are living together still at the time and in my mind I still want to finish this record, whatever that means. I don’t even know who we can play with or anything. It was a solid year of making more demos in the house with Daniel and then when the riots happened with Black Lives Matter, after George Floyd, I was like “Well, I don’t want to work on demos for this record anymore because I’m too caught up in what’s happening socially.” So I wrote “Monuments,” and we went in the studio and recorded that. Brandon couldn’t play on that because he was still living in his in-law at the time and we couldn’t really get together, but Harley from Choke Up was free and he had been playing with us at times anyway, so he came in and we recorded it and we put it out and we raised money for Black Lives Matter. Then, during that time, months later, we went back in the studio, and I had some demos of me, Harley and Daniel, and it was kind of the first time I had written songs that I wasn’t bouncing off of Craig, and I didn’t know if I was confident enough in my songwriting ability to just depend on myself. But, at the same time, I kinda had to be, you know? So “Telephone,” “Hold On,” Brokedowns,” those were all songs that came from that session with Harley. So we went in and recorded those, and I think we only recorded basic drums, guitar and bass. I don’t even think we did vocals yet. But then, me, Daniel and Brandon got together months later and worked on the other three that we had cut out of that original five-song session. We worked on those and then went and recorded those.

At this point, it’s like two years later. I had run into Craig and he talked about “Monuments” and how he thought it was a cool song and how he wishes he could have played on that song, and I said “Well, I thought that you didn’t want to” and he felt like time had passed and he felt different about things, and I think by that point we had done that livestream that we did. I had texted everyone like “Hey, me and Daniel want to do this, we don’t know who’s around and it’s pretty ambitious to do, but me and Daniel will do a lot of the heavy lifting but if you want to do it, it could be cool.” Everyone was obviously very into doing it, and I think going forward from that, I think it makes sense to keep running it that way. If there are things that come up that seem cool, whoever is in is in, and whoever has things going on, that’s fine. We’ll either have someone else come help us or we just won’t do it, but we’ll have other cool opportunities for us to do. I think by establishing that idea into the band, it makes people feel like they can participate but they don’t have to make it their whole entire life.

So, once we did that, I told Craig “Well, we’ve gone in and pretty much recorded the basics for the second half of the record and I have these new songs that you haven’t heard yet, so if you want to be on it I would love to have you, because I love your guitar work and I love your ideas and I love what you can bring to the table.” I love Craig’s vocals in the band. I think me and him complement each other well, and I always want him to be there at all times. I can’t force people to be there, and life is always going to happen, especially if this isn’t your full-time job and there is no money to be made on this. You can’t drop things to do this all the time. So we went back in the studio and showed him the skeletons of the songs and told him to add in the parts that he thought were good and he did backup vocals. The result is this record. It’s a weird record in terms of how it got made, but I think how it got made is what makes this record so important to us. So many things have gone on for us to make this happen.

On a lot of different levels, yeah.

On a lot of levels, right. So many! And Harley jumping in and playing drums, JR from Less Than Jake and Chris from Bosstones jumping in and playing horns on it

Or for some of us, it will always be Chris and Pete from Spring Heeled Jack (*both laugh*)

And then Casey Prestwood from Hot Rod Circuit plays lap steel guitar on that track. I remember him from a Drag The River show that I saw over ten years ago, and I was like “He’s so good, I wonder if he still plays…” so I was like “Hey, we don’t really know each other, but I saw you play this legendary show in my mind…do you still play lap steel?” and he was like “Yeah, man, I can do that for you, no problem.” Kailynn West sings on “Wedding Day.” So we reached out to a lot of friends to really make this record happen. I had to trust myself on a lot of decisions and push myself to finish this record, and I’m happy that at the end of it, it’s still the four of us here making this record and contributing however we could. And I feel like Harley is an extension of our band at this point because he has helped us out so much and I love having him there. So the reason there are only two lead-vocal Craig songs on the record is because he wasn’t there for some of the writing on it. So it was important to me that once he was back in the mix, that he sang a lot of the backups on it. I think live, there will be a lot more shared vocal stuff, because live, I can’s sing all those songs all in a row the way they’re written and have a voice by the end of the night. (*both laugh*)

I made note a couple times that you really push your voice on this one. 

I’ve been taking vocal lessons for the last two years now. I do a vocal lesson every two weeks, and I started that because I knew that Craig wouldn’t be able to be there for some of the shows and I would have to sing a majority of the songs, because we didn’t have someone else who could sing his parts. And that would be a lot for my voice to take on, especially if the songs weren’t written with the intention of one person singing them. Even a song like “Get Up” or “Anchoring” has some back-and-forth spots that, when we’ve done it live without Criag for the couple of shows that he hasn’t been able to be at, it’s been difficult. So, I reached out to a vocal coach and every two weeks we FaceTime. I still do them, because it’s good to have. But I do remember Jay (Maas) saying when we were recording that “I think your vocals sound better than I’ve ever heard them, and I think the lessons helped a lot.” I was really appreciative of that. 

I think I would agree with that. I think with a song like “Hold On,” which is obviously an important song for a lot of reasons, it being the first single from the new record sets that bar, and you really push it in that song especially, to the high end of the register for you. Even though that song is drop-tuned, right?

So that’s the trick! This is so stupid…(*both laugh*)

No, I love this shit!

When we learned the Blink self-titled record, there are a couple songs that are tuned in C#. I think “Violence” is one of them, and I think “Stockholm Syndrome” might be. I remember how cool I thought it sounded, so I thought “Well, maybe I’ll copy Tom DeLonge and write a couple of songs in C#.” Also, “Wrestle Yu to Husker Du” by The Dirty Nil is also tuned down to C#, and I was like “This is why the singer of Dirty Nil can sing so high on that song, because he’s playing drop-tuned, so it’s giving you more of a range to sing over it.” So I was like “Oh, that’s the trick! That’s why it sounds like he’s belting the song out!” So with “Telephone” and “Hold On,” those are the two songs that I wrote in that tuning for that reason. 

Oh “Telephone” I don’t think I knew, but “Hold On,” for sure – that big riff at the beginning of it. Is that fun? It seems like you were obviously pretty inspired to write during everything that was going on anyway, but did trying out new tunings like that open up any creative parts of your brain and, like, “Oh, there’s a whole new register of songs I can write!”

Oh yeah, it’s so fun. Everyone knows the Drop-D trick, for sure, but when I tuned down to C#, I retuned the whole entire guitar down a step-and-a-half. I think it sounds really cool

And now you can play Korn covers! 

(*both laugh*) For sure! It gets my creative juices flowing a lot more, for sure, to get to think of things in a different way. The cool thing is that Craig bought a guitar pedal that you just hit and it down-tunes you to whatever semi tone you want to. He tried it and didn’t love it, but he thought it would be cool for me because I do a lot of big, open chords. So I tried it and I was like “Damn, for a live setting, this is fucking fine with me!” So when we play live, I have that pedal and I use it for those songs. I don’t have to retune, I just hit the pedal and what you hear from there is drop tuned. Then I can still just have my backup guitar as a backup, because that was the fear. What if you break a string and then you have to go to your back-up guitar, and then you have to figure out how to…

…capo punk rock songs at the third fret or whatever. 

Yeah, exactly. It’s a super cool pedal. I think there’s definitely some give-and-take with the tone a little bit, but it’s so negligible that I’m fine with it. 

I think the last time we talked like this was maybe right around the George Floyd events. I don’t remember if we talked specifically for “Monuments” or anything like that. But did you stay pretty creative, or did the not really knowing what was going to happen with the band make so that you didn’t even bother writing during that time?

I want to say that I was super creative throughout the whole thing but a lot of it was just very depressing for me, especially around the George Floyd time. I would sit there and try to write something, but I was forcing myself to write when I wasn’t feeling inspired. All I was thinking about was “Do I have a career anymore? Maybe I don’t have a career anymore! Did I make all the wrong choices that led me to this point where I don’t own a career or own a house? Did I set myself up for complete failure? That’s how I felt throughout all of it. And then, when the George Floyd thing happened, I wrote “Monuments” faster than I’ve ever written any other song, and we recorded it faster than we’ve recorded any other song. From inception to recording it, it took about two weeks, which is the fastest Rebuilder has ever done anything! That snapped me back into doing something, because I felt like I wrote because I didn’t know how to…there’s only so many posts you can make (on social media). I don’t know what to say, and I don’t ever know the right things to say at all, really. All I really know is how I feel, and I don’t know if that’s the correct thing. Writing “Monuments” helped me put all of my feelings into one thing and try to do something good with it. I can’t fix it and I can’t make it go away, but I can contribute in some way to making it better. That was when I got a little bit more creative, and then when we went in with Alex-Garcia Rivera to record a Mavis Beacon song for Jeff Poot, because he had a brain aneurysm, we thought it would be fun to cover his song and send him some money. That was another thing where these things seemed so pressing and so much more important than what our band is, that that was when I was like “Oh, I feel like I can be creative now because there’s a purpose.” That made me start doing things again, because otherwise, it didn’t feel like there was ever going to be a purpose other than just being less bored. 

I think that if you look at it from 10,000 feet though, I think that a lot of the songs that tackle mental health issues are also a way of sort of doing the same thing. Those songs are written for a purpose and people hear them and hopefully they resonate with them and identify with things in them, and that helps them either call somebody and get help or realize they aren’t alone. And so I feel like some of the more mental health-related songs sort of accomplish the same sort of purpose, at least for me as a listener.

Yeah, I hope so! There was still a record to be worked on and finished, so once I was in the mode of “We’re going to go record and we’re getting in a room together,” even if it was just me and Daniel and Harley, if felt like there were things going on. Especially with tracks like “Wedding Day” and “Staying Alive” that take on a lot of the mental health things. I always say that when you hear songs like “Staying Alive,” you’re like “Is this a big, desperate cry for help?” But Rebuilder takes so long to get anything out into the world (*both laugh*) that whatever was going on, by the time you hear it, that is years and years and years removed. “Staying Alive” is a song that was written on a reflection of a time where I had another complete mental breakdown a little after college, when I was probably 24 or 25. I’m 38 now, so whatever was going on at that time, I’m thankful is way behind me, where I can write a song like “Staying Alive” and have it be really heavy and serious, but it’s not a thing where I can’t play that song because it’s too new or too painful. Like, I can write the song because I can talk about what I was feeling at that time, and what I still sometimes feel now, and have it not be so reactionary to my life at that moment. I can guarantee you that there’s a book somewhere with the lyrics to that song written over and over and over again until I felt it was what it should be.

There are times where I look back on lyrics from my first band where I’m like “Oh my god, I wish this person didn’t put this song out. I wish he thought of different words to put in because it’s so cringy.” I just don’t want it to be that anymore (*both laugh*). So it’s a good thing that it takes a while for this stuff to come out, since it allows me to sit with things even for a year and say “Eh, I don’t know if that’s right.” I’m happy with how “Staying Alive” came out because after revising it so many times, it doesn’t read as corny. I didn’t want it to be too corny or too much like an emo song. I wanted it to be a serious song dealing with serious matters but also feel like by the end of the song you don’t feel like “Oh this situation is terrible.” 

When people who know you from Salfies or from #TheBiz or from that side of things hear those songs filled with references to the more mental health-heavy stuff, does that strike them as weird because you don’t always present to them that way publicly?

No one brings it up. I’ve never had anyone be like “that’s weird that you would write this song when you do all these really fucking dumb things on the internet.” I just think that they must think “This is wild. This kid must be the most bipolar kid in the fucking world.” (*both laugh*) I always imagine that they think that. But I have also thought that the funny thing is that it also goes very hand-in-hand. There is a lot of crossover (“Staying Alive”) and Salfies than you would ever, ever imagine. 


Yeah. The way that I felt in a song like “Staying Alive” and everything I felt in it and all the anxieties and all the times where I just did not want to be alive, is because I had no confidence in myself and I always was very, very concerned with what people think about me. And I still have that. I don’t think that ever goes away. But I remember when I first took a dumb Salfie in a bathroom and sent it on Snapchat to my band members while we were on a tour and thinking it was so funny and seeing the reactions from everybody being like “Oh, what the fuck!?” All it took was somebody saying “I hope you don’t do this the whole tour” for me to be like “Well now I have to.” I was doing it and thinking it was funny but it was still an internal thing and no one knew about. I remember a girl I was dating at the time I had shown that picture to, and they weer so disgusted. It made me feel really bad. They were disgusted in a bad way, like “Please don’t ever take pictures like this, and don’t show anybody this, this is so embarrassing for me and I don’t know why you would do something like this.” I remember thinking to myself “Well, note to self, don’t show your girlfriend these pictures…”

I kept doing them obviously, and during a Bosstones tour, Adam Shaw, the tour manager, had asked about Rebuilder and I sent him that picture and I was like “We just finished a tour, here’s a picture from tour!” and he thought it was hilarious and sent it to all the guys in that band, and they thought it was funny or some of them were disgusted. Dicky was one of the people who loved it. He coined the term. He texted me and was like “No Salfies this weekend, please!” and he was like “You’ve gotta make a Salendar calendar, that would be so funny!” That encouraged me to get more creative with it, because I thought it was so funny. More and more people started finding out about it and bringing it up to me. I remember I was at a restaurant with the girl I was dating at the time and I remember a friend of mine came up to me and said “Oh you must be so proud of the Salfies” and they got fucking pissed! They were so bullshit! They were like “Why do people know about this?! Why is this becoming a thing?!” After we broke up, I think one of the things I did was like “Well, fuck it – now I don’t have anyone standing over me and making me feel self-conscious about doing this, I’m just going to post it on Instagram.” I think I posted the archives that I had on my phone on Instagram like the day after we broke up, and people being like “OH MY FUCKING GOD!”

I remember people seeing it and it becoming a “thing,” like “we need more Salfies!” and thinking it was so funny, to the point that Jimmy Kimmel had seen them. Due to “circumstances,” after a Bosstones show I was out at a dinner with Bob Saget and Jimmy Kimmel. Someone introduced me to Bob Saget and he was like “Who’s this?” and someone said “This is Sal” and Jimmy goes “Yeah, let me show you a picture of him,” and he had a Salfie on his phone and showed it to Saget and he laughed and said “This is amazing, I want to show this to Mary-Kate (Olsen)!” I was sitting there thinking “What the fuck is my life right now?!?” (*both laugh*)

It blew my mind completely, and from that point, I hadn’t felt like I’d described in “Staying Alive.” I hadn’t felt that way in a long time and I remember not feeling that way and thinking “I don’t give a fuck anymore. I don’t care, and I can’t believe that this is the outcome that came from me posting dumb pictures of me naked behind things on Instagram.” But then, the person who felt that way could never post pictures like that, you know? Now it’s a whole thing and I think it’s so stupid, but even now, there’s times when I meet people and they’re like “Oh my god, you have to look at Sal’s Instagram, it’s a whole thing.” I’ve had people say to me “I wish I could do that, I don’t have the fucking balls to do it. That’s crazy.” And I’m just, like, yeah, I don’t know how I got to this point, but I’m glad I did, because I don’t ever want to feel the way I did before. Ever! I never want to feel the way I did in “Staying Alive.” It’s a terrible feeling and you feel like you have no hope and you have nowhere to go and you’re not good enough and you have so much self-doubt. Now, I feel like that isn’t as aggressive in my life anymore, and some of that is thankfully due to thinking it’s fucking hilarious to put a Santa Claus in front of me and stand behind it naked, you know? (*both laugh*)

I think even with #TheBiz stuff, the way that you present to people is that “This kid is smart, and he’s funny, but he also doesn’t really give a fuck and he’ll tell you exactly how things actually work and he’s super confident.” So to know that some of that comes from the place of a person who has overcome so much fear and doubt and insecurity and anxiety is pretty awesome, I think. 

I’m glad it comes off that way. With The Biz stuff, I think that the music business is just hte most ridiculous business in the world. It’s such a fucking joke. As someone who has been in it my whole life – who literally has a fucking degree in it – I think it’s funny to point out this stuff. It’s always crazy to me how much the general public doesn’t know about things. When we signed to A-F Records, people were like “Congratulations on A-F!” I got those texts a lot and I didn’t really know how to respond to them. In my head, I was like “Well, it’s not Warner Brothers, you know? What are these congratulations for? It’s not Sony Music, you know? It’s a small label. I’m happy for it, but it’s a small label.” So I responded to a lot of people “Thank you! They gave us a million-dollar advance.” I think nine out of ten people believed it every single time. They were like “Whoa, that’s crazy!” And I’m thinking “Fuck…they really don’t know how this thing works.” I think things like that are funny, and it means so many different things. One, people have no idea what a million-dollar advance means. So let’s say it were true: that would mean that I now owe the record label a million dollars before I ever see any money ever again.

Right, you have to sell a million dollars worth of records.

Yeah, to get that back, or to make any profit after that. And let’s say we did start making that back. Now you have to split it among all of these people. So it would be a nice cushion for a while, but it won’t be forever. So even that statement, there’s so much weight that comes with what it actually means, and people have no idea at all. So it was funny to say and have people say “Wow, that’s crazy!!” (*both laugh*) I love always posting about The Biz with different artists and having them be in on the joke too, or when it comes to merch and a lot of people talk about merch cuts and how they’re bad, and I think that you can’t have “Save Our Stages” and “Fuck The Venues” all at the same time, you know? (*both laugh*) People are like “I don’t want to pay the merch cut, but let’s make sure this venue doesn’t go away!” It’s so contradictory. And I’m not even saying that I think merch cuts are necessarily a good thing. All I’m saying is that they exist and they go to keep the venue open, so maybe you’ve got to think about what you’re arguing for. 

I do think there’s a difference when it happens at what’s seen to be an independent venue versus what is seen to be a corporate, LiveNation venue, where it seems like the corporate overlords have their hands in everything and realistically LiveNation could do without your five dollars on that t-shirt and they’re collecting it in the name of profit. Whereas with a locally run place or a smaller venue might not be able to keep the lights on without it. So to me it seems like there’s a distinction to be made. 

Oh for sure. Absolutely. I’m all for there not being merch cuts, and I say that as somebody who makes money off there being a merch cut. I literally run a merch vending business where the money I make for a living sometimes is because of a merch cut. I get it, and I would happily give that up for there to just be no merch cuts across the board, because I don’t think a venue should share in 20% of merch sales. People get really emotional about it because it has to do with music, whereas if you just thought about it like a business thing, then it’s totally different. If you go to set up at the flea market, you’ve got to pay a flat fee to have your table set up or sometimes you have to pay a percentage to have your things set up, so for me, it’s the cost of doing business. And for me, if you’re a band that agrees to it and you sign a contract that says you agree to hand over that money to the venue, you shouldn’t put up a fight at the end of the night with the person who is still in college and is an hourly, paid employee who is just going to you to settle up. Don’t be a dickhead to that person. That’s basically you being a dickhead to your Amazon driver because you don’t like Jeff Bezos, you know? Why are you yelling at the Amazon driver, he’s not the one getting the Jeff Bezos money, he’s just getting his hourly rate and doing his fucking job. Go yell at your agent who said “yeah, that fee is fine.” Go yell at him!

I think you have to look out for your fans above all. Take a look at a band like Dropkick Murphys. They have always kept prices of t-shirts relatively affordable for people going to a show. Dropkick have played small clubs and they have played huge arenas. Their cost of a shirt is usually between $20 at the cheapest and $30-35 at the most expensive. I think if you went and saw them at Fenway Park opening up for the Foo Fighters or whatever, the price of a t-shirt was still a $30 t-shirt, rather than them being like “Well, it’s Fenway Park, and Fenway Park is going to take a lot, and we don’t even get to sell it, and the cut is like 25-75 or 30-70. It sucks. It definitely sucks. But at the end of the day, you have to worry about your customer. You shouldn’t give a fuck about the venue. It sucks that they’re taking that much, but you have to think about your fan. It sucks as a fan, when your only option of seeing you where you are is at a big place because that’s the only place you’re playing, and I have to pay $50 to buy a shirt when the kid in the next state that saw you at a smaller place got to pay $20 when it’s the same exact fucking shirt and I didn’t have the option of seeing them at the smaller place. I have no idea what a merch cut even is. All I know is that Rebuilder got a million dollar advance and now I’m paying fifty dollars for a t-shirt (*both laugh*).” People don’t know. You’ve got to care about your fanbase and do what’s best for them, because at the end of the day, you’re the one that is going to look like a dickhead and create more of a problem.”

I’m going to tell you the only time I’ve used my degree. (*both laugh*) I went to Berklee College of Music for this moment right here. This is what the college set me up for. I was selling merch for Dinosaur Jr. at Roadrunner. This guy came up to me and said “Do you work for the band or the venue?” And I said “Both, why?” And he was like “I just want to know.” So I said Okay, I’m going to entertain this for now. Both.” And he was like “How does that work?” And I said “Well, the band hired me. Sometimes you work for the band. I tour for a living working for acts. But I also live here and I need a place to work when I’m home. This is a venue I work at. And sometimes, both of those things happen at the same time.” And he goes “Well, you know, I’m just asking because venues really screw over artists all the time!” And I was like “Excuse me?!” And he goes “You know, the venues just take money from bands now, and they don’t let bands make money.” I’m like this guy read a post from his favorite band saying “fuck these venues taking merch cuts” or whatever and doesn’t even understand what that means.

So I said “That’s such a general statement and it’s not exactly true.” And he goes, “Yeah it is, I know! I’ve been going to shows for twenty years.” And I said “I have a music business degree, and this is how I make all my money and I literally went to school for this.” And he’s like “You went to school for this? Where did you go?” And I said “Berklee. Years ago. I’m fucking 38.” And he’s like “Oh, well, you have a degree in it, so I guess you know. Sorry.” And he walked away. And I was like “Well, that’s the one moment, that one guy right there, is the one time I’ve used this degree.” And yes, there are things that suck for bands. If you’re a small band on an opening tour, you’re getting paid $100 to $200 a night for that opening slot and then you have to pay the merch cut on top of that, it sucks for you. I suggest you lie to the venue, but be extremely nice and kind and respectful and like “Well, this is what we made tonight. We made $100.” I hope that they feel bad for you and don’t take anything, and I hope that you can do a good job playing that part every night to do what you need to do as a band. That’s just the way I look at it. 

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