When I heard that the RX Bandits were playing in my town, I knew I’d be there. What I didn’t know was that I’d end up interviewing them and photographing the show for Dying Scene. I’m not a journalist and I’ve never interviewed a “real” band before, but I got to sit down with Steve and Chris from RX Bandits and talk about their writing process, playing Bonnaroo, and what’s next for the boys from Seal Beach. Check out the interview for yourself to see how it went. Big thanks to the guys from RX Bandits for participating, and to Cathy and Chase at Sergeant House Records for setting it up!
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Dying Scene: So you guys have been on the road promoting the new album, how’s everything going so far?
Steve Choi (guitar, keyboard, vocals) : It’s going good, we just got back from Australia. We were home for four days, and then we started this tour.
DS: Do you guys have any favorite venues to play?
SC: We love playing in San Francisco, New York, and Philadephia.
Chris Tsagakis (drums) : The TLA [Theater of the Living Arts] in Philly is a good one. Emo’s in Austin is a good one.
DS: Do you have any tour rituals or habits?
SC: We have to visit Waffle House once a tour. We usually keep it to one time, because, you know…it’s Waffle House. When we play Philly we always all pretty much go to Lorenzo’s and get a slice after the show when we play the TLA.
DS: What’s one thing you guys don’t leave home without? One thing you absolutely wouldn’t get on the bus without.
CT: An iPod or some sort of MP3 player.
SC: Besides instruments? Probably recording stuff.
DS: So you guys do a lot of recording on tour?
SC: Yeah, but we all have side projects and different stuff as far as producing and engineering that we have to do. So we pretty much all bring our recording setups.
DS: Let’s talk about Mandala – how was writing the album different from writing …And the Battle Begun with the departures of Chris Sheets and Steve Borth between the recordings of the two albums?
SC: It seems like our listens and fans think it’s a lot bigger of a deal than we do. Not that it’s not important – their perception of us is important, but we don’t share that [perception]. But the song writing core has stayed the same, basically. Matt and I write the music, but for the most part we write a lot of the music together. We just come up with the initial things to bring to the band.
DS: And that’s always been the case, so that didn’t change between the albums, right?
CT: The songwriting process really didn’t change much, it’s just that that other element wasn’t there. But it didn’t stop us from any other elements, the same as percussion or any extra keyboards, extra sounds or anything in general that goes on top of the music anyway. It kind of just all goes in there. Because we had horn players in the band, it happened to be horns a lot of the time [in the past]. Since they weren’t there, it just wasn’t horns, it was other things.
DS: Were there any musical influences that stand out to you as being more prominent on Mandala than on previous records?
SC: If anything, I would say that the musical influences were probably the least on this record.
CT: The influences were more visual or experience-related than any particular artist.
SC: And that’s pretty much been the case with us for … a long time.
DS: Did you have any strong non-musical influences? Like books or movies or current events that inspired things on the record?
SC: We’re not the type of band to be like “Oh I read this book and I want to write a song about it” or “The inauguration happened.” We do use a lot of visuals, but it’s things that we create on our own. Like, “I want this song to sound like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man getting in a fight and knocking over a building,” or something. And it can get ridiculous and extreme like that.
I’ve said this before on certain interviews or YouTube videos – literally the way we write our music and a big way that we wrote Mandala is just writing soundtracks to movies that we make in our heads.
DS: So you just come up with the craziest ideas that you can?
SC: Or not even crazy, sometimes it’s something like a piece of tile in the shower that reminds you of the Vatican. At risk of sounding cheesy, throughout everyday life there are things that can influence you or spark an idea. All you need for any creation, in any medium, is an idea or a concept.
DS: The album was produced by Chris Fudurich, who also produced your albums Progress (2001) and The Resignation (2003). Is there a reason you went back to him? What was working with him again like?
SC: It was cool. We’re older and more mature now, we have a very familiar relationship and he’s got a very good ear. He’s the kind of quote-unquote producer that we like, the kind that focuses on the engineering side of things, where all he’s worrying about is our performance and the sounds of things. We don’t need someone to get into our song-writing, we’re not that type of band. And he knows that, he has that trust with us. He knows that whatever structure we come in with, that’s what we’re gonna do. He’s just got a great touch and ear, and he has a really great sense of knowing when we’re playing our best and when we didn’t. Since we record live, we need someone to monitor our performances because when we’re actually playing, it’s hard for us to pay attention to that because we’re so focused on playing what we play. He’s just got a really good sense of knowing when we’re playing our best.
DS: You guys started off as a ska band. Over the years, you’ve moved away from the strong horn sound and toward a more progressive sound. Was there anything that sparked that? Was it a planned move?
SC: I just don’t see how any band that stays together could play the same music for years upon years upon years. I just don’t see that. I don’t know anybody who’s continued to dress the same, speak the same, look the same – the only difference is that we haven’t changed the name. I think it’s unnatural to not progress. But there wasn’t anything that sparked it in particular.
CT: It’s not conscious, it just kind of happens. We do it for the purpose of creating art, so it’s always going to change.
DS: You guys are involved with side projects – The Sound of Animals Fighting, Love You Moon – how has that side activity influenced RX Bandits?
SC: I don’t think it influences it, at all. I think side projects aren’t about that. I think side projects, for members of a full-time touring band, are about a release. It’s about exercising things outside of the band. Anytime anybody’s an artist, there’s no reason for any creative person to stick with one creative entity. Does an actor only play one role? Does a musician only play one [style]? You have to try to stay multi-faceted.
I think what it does do is that it allows us, even though it’s hard to imagine what the focus for a band like ours would be, to stay focused on what we want to do in RX.
DS: You’ve been playing a lot of big festivals – Bonnaroo in 2007 and you’re on the bill for Coachella this upcoming summer. Is there a reason you chose to pursue those big gigs?
SC: I think that’s what’s really cool about it – there’s nothing you can do to go after those gigs. For these kinds of festivals, they strictly choose – which is why it’s really, really exciting.
CT: There are literally thousands and thousands of band who would submit for it, so it’s really up to when they feel you’re ready or when you’re appropriate for the festival.
SC: Especially a big festival like Coachella, which is so exclusive. Every year, the lineup is just hand-picked. There’s nothing political. There’s thousands of bands who would pay their own money to play Coachella, which is why it’s such an honor for us to be asked. We’re all so stoked about that.
DS: After you guys left Drive-Thru Records, you signed with Sergeant House and Mash Down Babylon. How did you end up with them?
SC: Mash Down Babylon is something that Matt started up on his own. Basically, Cathy [Pellow, owner of Sergeant House Records] approached us and we were the second band she’d ever managed. At the time, we were the only band she was managing, and she started Sergeant House as an entity to manage our stuff and then it just grew from there as far as I know.
DS: Is it true that you record RX Bandits albums in Matt’s garage?
SC: No. On …And the Battle Begun, there was some overdubs and tracking that were done in the garage, but there have been no full songs recorded in the garage for RX, with the exception of an Oingo Boingo cover that we did. But – lots of music that is recorded in the garage.
CT: For RX, at least for the core of the music, we need something with a different atmosphere than a garage. But the garage is a backup. It’s a place that sounds good enough if we need to get stuff done. A lot of the side projects are done in there.
SC: We demo in there and stuff like that.
DS: Speaking of demos, when do you think you’ll be heading back into the studio or putting together a new album?
SC: We’ve been kicking the idea around. We’re going to be off this summer, so I’m sure we’ll be practicing and writing then. We don’t really work with [tentative dates], where we say “We need to have a new album out next year so we need to start it this month.” Which may be good or bad, but that’s the why there was so much time between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. But it’s all we can do.
DS: Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans?
SC: Thank you so much for the support. People have stuck with us for a long period of time and through a lot of different music. Especially with Mandala, there have been a lot of people who have expressed that they don’t like it as much, which is totally fair. From our perspective it’s happened on every record and we know that if we’re making something that people like a year or two later, then we’re really doing something right. So for the people who like it already, thank you for sticking with us. And for all the new fans to come – welcome