Boston street punks The Ducky Boys recently released their 5th full-length studio album, “Dead End Streets” on State Line Records. I got to chat with lead singer/bassist Mark Lind about the new album and the ongoing evolution of their sound after 17 years together.
Check out the interview here.
Dying Scene (Gina): Run us through the timeline of the last year or so. Chasing the Ghost was released to wide acclaim, you released the Chemicals EP, and you were almost immediately back in the studio recording Dead End Streets. Had that always been the plan? Is it hard to jump so quickly into new material?
Mark Lind: No. We never had a plan. Chasing the Ghost started out with the intention of it being a 7” EP. Maybe four songs and an extra cover song for the download version. That snowballed out of nowhere into a 17 song album. There were two songs that we tabled from Chasing the Ghost. One was mine and I left it off because it wasn’t done (and it still isn’t). The other was Douglas’s “Come Closer” which we just didn’t get to rehearse enough in order to record it for that album. That song became the genesis of the Chemicals EP. The two songs I contributed to that were brand new at the time and put together shortly before the recording. Douglas had a back stock of songs going back years that he had never recorded so he plucked “Chemicals” from that batch and added the rehearsed version of “Come Closer”. It turned out to be a solid EP.
Things changed a bit when Rich joined the band. We got along well and we played well together. And that second guitar and second harmony vocal inspired us to work on new stuff with him in the band. That led to the Chemicals EP with the songs I mentioned above. The new album, Dead End Streets….. I don’t even know where that came from. If I recall I told the band that I wanted to make another record and I’d prefer it to be a Ducky Boys record to one under my own name. Douglas and his wife were expecting their second child. We had kept busy all year. I had vacation time to use. So we just sort of set a goal of capping off the year in the best way possible, which is recording new music. And we would have it all wrapped before Douglas’s daughter was born. He suggested the Kickstarter thing. Our producer, Benny Grotto, has worked extensively with Amanda Palmer and The Dresden Dolls and she had a lot of success with that. Benny kept telling us to go that route the next time. Then Bryan McPherson used that method to get his van so we figured we would give it a shot not really knowing if we would meet the goal. Some of what has happened since we rebooted the band is a blur. I’m sober this time out so it isn’t a blur of drunken stupidity but it’s a blur of awesomeness. We’ve done so many cool things in the past two years that I can’t really remember how all things came to be. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to organize a timeline in my mind but looking back on it today I just remember a lot of fun things happening and all of us being excited about it and on top of the world and that motivated us.
It’s not hard to jump into new material when this is what we do. We aren’t the normal band that makes music just to have a reason to tour. Let’s be honest, that’s what most full time bands do. It’s all about touring and selling t-shirts so they just need to shit out a mediocre new album every two years so they can energize the fan base and have a reason to press new t-shirt designs. This isn’t our day job so we do it simply because we want to. There are times we don’t want to and nothing new happens. And then there are years like last year where we played with some of our favorite bands, traveled, launched a record label and released one of our favorite albums (Bryan McPherson’s “American Boy American Girl”). It seemed like a logical way to cap off the year and once you get into that mind set it is just a matter of sharing yourself and communicating with people. The songs happen when it’s genuine and not forced. If someone had a gun to our heads and told us we had to deliver a record then we couldn’t have done it. People motivated us by backing our Kickstarter campaign and telling us they wanted it. It was the most pure method of making music that I’ve ever experienced and that made it easy.
What was the inspiration for the new material?
Just life. We’re an open book and just share ourselves with people. That’s one of the reasons why it was so cool that Boston.com recognized in their review of the new record that we were the Boston punk band from the 90’s that got personal with people. I’ve always known that about us but I didn’t think anyone else was catching onto that. So these songs just sort of happened. I lack any level of temperance. We recorded 24 songs for this album. Douglas is the one that talks sense to me and makes me slow down a bit. Where’s the fire? I’m still learning to chill out and thankfully he’s there to be a voice of reason.
Sometimes the meaning and inspiration for an album isn’t apparent until later. You’re just so caught up in making it that you don’t take the time to analyze yourself, what you’re saying or why you’re saying it. Looking at Dead End Streets now it appears that there is some confidence to it. For me, some of it was a reaction to the self-loathing found on Chasing the Ghost. I internalized a lot of what was going on in my life at the time and sort of beat myself up and that’s very clear in the words to that album. And then one day I woke up and said fuck that. And a lot of this album is saying that. It has a little bit of a lot of things on there but that’s the overall vibe I feel. I mean…. We recorded a jazz song with no guitars on it and didn’t bat an eye about whether or not people would like it. If that’s not confidence then what is?
Who came up with the idea of using a jazz tempo on “The Time We’re Given”?
That song is 100% Douglas Sullivan. He writes differently than I do. My stuff can be strummed on an acoustic guitar and then the band learns it, interprets it and it becomes what it is. And by virtue of the amount of time we’ve worked together, Jay is the same way. Douglas pays attention to details. Only he could write a song like that. Every note and fill is deliberate.
Was there any hesitation in the band to make a jump to that sort of sound?
Douglas is also one of the only people on the planet that I trust with 100% of my confidence. He had a demo to play us but it had no vocals on it. He just said “the vocals will be anthemic” and we trusted where he was leading us. It’s a courtesy he’s extended to me a hundred times before and it was nice to sit back and watch him do his thing and see this song take the shape he was describing. You can learn a lot from other people if you’re willing to shut up and listen sometimes. Douglas did a great job with all four of the songs he wrote for this album. They’re my favorite songs on the album. I think a lot of people will agree with me.
You mentioned recently that drummer Jason Messina had supplied the “bones” of 2 of the new songs, and Doug routinely contributes his own material as well. How do you feel about sharing the songwriting duties? How do you keep the style cohesive when different people are bringing songs to the table?
Ducky Boys started as sort of “my thing” by default. We were young, clueless and there was an opportunity so I just grabbed the reigns and held onto them for a long time. Even when Douglas joined the band he was still very diplomatic in asserting himself. Our plan from the day he joined the band was for him to be singing leads and writing by the second album with us but he just didn’t feel comfortable yet. The foundation of our style was put into place a long time ago. Now we’re a real band. The Ducky Boys are Jason, Rich, Douglas and me. It isn’t my thing anymore. It belongs to all of us and I’ve found that I’ve always wanted that but we just didn’t have the right people in place until now. Rich also wrote and sang lead on a song for this album. It’s one of the nine songs that aren’t included on the final album but it will get released one day. We’d like to return to the studio at some point and give that song and the eight others the attention they deserve and then put out a b-sides album of sorts. Some people will like those leftover songs more than they like the ones on the record. That’s inevitable. And we want to see them get released. The majority of those leftover songs are very punk rock.
Regarding Jay, he’s always been instrumental in the band. His drumming is as important to the sound of the Ducky Boys as my weird voice is. It’s one of the traits that people immediately recognize as being us even if it is subconscious recognition. If Jay left the band today then we could go on but it wouldn’t be the same. He’s like the punk rock Steven Adler. Remember how boring and dull Guns N’ Roses got when they replaced Steven Adler with a pro? That’s what would happen to us except I would never wear those spandex shorts like Axl did. So now Jay is starting to bring ideas to the table. Ideas that he began, not ideas to enhance songs that someone else wrote. The important thing is to nurture that and build his confidence. We’re bandmates and friends so we’ll help each other. Right now he just brings chord patterns and I could be a dick and say “I’ve heard that chord patter a hundred times.” Yeah… who hasn’t heard our chord patterns a hundred times? Or even a thousand times? Instead I listen and try to hear what comes to me for a melody to sing over it. He teaches me his idea and then I play with it. That’s how it is today. Next week he could walk in with a full song and we’ll see how that goes too. I can tell that he is uncertain about writing words because it is scary to put yourself out there at first. Until you realize that it’s the best therapy that money can’t buy. As long as he doesn’t want to write words then I’ll fill in those spaces for him. Or with him as was the case on one song called “In the Scars”. He threw out one positive opening line and I twisted it from there. The music to the intro and verses of “The Advantage” were his. I developed the melody over it and matched it up with a chorus. You know the drummer from R.E.M. wrote “Everybody Hurts.” Maybe Jay has a hit in him waiting to be heard. Ha.
Stylistically, how does this album compare to 2012’s Chasing the Ghost and your other releases?
It maintains our identity while pushing some new boundaries. There were some new styles on Chasing the Ghost like “Feeling Alive”, “Medicine” and “An Angel Like You.” This one has some new ones too. Lyrically it continues to represent who are or were at the time of its recording. That will never change about us.
You said on Facebook that you’ve played in a lot of bands, but playing with the Ducky Boys always feels like “home.” Why is that?
It was my first band. Some of those songs just come back to us through muscle memory. It’s a weird experience. We got to practice the other night and picked through the new songs that we had to learn. But then anything off the first four albums we just played perfectly in one shot after not playing together for nearly a year. Your hands just play the right parts. Your voice just goes to the right part. It’s all muscle memory and it’s kind of an odd feeling. But it’s a comforting feeling. I never thought that playing “I’ll Rise Up” and “Pride” for the 1,001th time would feel so good.
Last time I interviewed you, guitarist Rich Crimlisk was a newcomer to the band. How have you all grown together over the past year? You seem to be using a lot more harmonies and background vocals on the choruses, is that a direct result of having another voice to work with?
We get along really well. We’re all pretty easy going and each guy adds his piece. Rich’s part is just as crucial as any other band member. We’re all psyched to have him on board. His guitar playing and vocals are essential to what we do now. I couldn’t be happier with him on board. We actually took time at practice the other night to all tell him that. Douglas started it because he’s just a nice person but it was all true. Rich is an MVP and with a new person in the band there are new areas to explore and tap into.
You’re a prolific songwriter, and you are working on several projects at once (Sinners & Saints, The Warning Shots). Do you write specific songs with specific bands in mind?
I just do what I do and the bands interpret the songs. With Ducky Boys most of that happens in the studio. With The Warning Shots we do a lot of collaborating in the practice space. We only have six songs right now and only three of them started as mine and, even at that, they were changed and enhanced considerably by other members of the band. Nick Repassy writes words for The Warning Shots. I’ve never sung anyone else’s lyrics before so that’s been a lot of fun. But it’s also been a challenge for me to adapt to a new style after all these years. I’m up for the challenge. That band is the one we’ll be focusing on most in between stints of the Ducky Boys. I’m interested in being IN bands these days and not having a band just play my ideas. And I definitely don’t ever want to play as someone’s backing musician ever again. It’s all collaborative going forward or it isn’t happening. If I choose to break that mold then it will be an acoustic album of me pretending I’m Bob Dylan.
Dead End Streets was funded through a Kickstarter campaign. How did it feel to have that much support up front?
It was flattering and inspiring. But I wouldn’t go that route again without a solid business plan. The number of $15,000 was a WAG as they call it in the business world. I didn’t sit down and plan it all out. The project isn’t even fully paid off and it’s already cost $22,000 and I still have a bunch of original songs to write for people. Ha!
Would you go that route again?
The Kickstarter model will work better in the future if it is a system of pre-ordering. Emphasis needs to be taken off overpriced and personalized packages and it should just be pre-orders. If you sell 2000 CD’s or downloads then you’ve paid for your whole project. We didn’t get 2000 backers. If we did at $10 each then it would have broken even and people would have been able to pay regular prices. Thank God for people that want more at the moment but I’d prefer to see a pre-order system that is just retail price plus shipping.
What’s your favorite song on this album? Why?
My favorite song right now is “The Time We’re Given” because Douglas hit the ball over the fence on that. Of my own songs I like “In the Scars” best because I find the sentiment of the song to be very true. People that hurt us do tattoo their names into our skin or our hearts with the scars they leave us with.
“’Til the Wheels Fall Off” sounds like you’re talking directly to your fans, telling them why you do what you do. Why did you want to end the album on that note? What in particular do you want your fans to come away with from this album? What do you want to say to them?
I’m a stickler about never calling people fans because it suggests that there is a separation between us. That song is for our supporters. And it is just telling them that we’ve been here a while. We’ve seen other bands come and go. We’ve seen bands that are only in it for the money that throw in the towel when they realize it isn’t gonna make them famous. We’ve seen bands abandon the street punk sound they started with in an effort to try and “go mainstream.” We’ve seen bands use the scene as a stepping stone to other ventures. We haven’t done these things and we never will. We will always be ourselves. We will always be there with the people that have grown up with us since we were teenagers playing on stage at The Rat and they were teenagers on that grimy dance floor. And all the other people we’ve picked up along the way too. And we’ll do this until the wheels fall off the cart because this is who we are and we have no hidden agenda. We have no bullshit gimmick to sell you. We don’t think we’re gonna be the next Green Day and we know we’re the same as everyone else. The wheels could fall off the wagon tomorrow. This could be our last album for years or forever. Or we could do a new one in a few months. We really don’t know. But whatever happens we’re still us and we’re still there for them in whatever capacity they want whether it be to trade emails or just exist on old CD’s in their collections. We also slapped that coda on the end of the song to tell them to do it themselves too. If it inspires one kid to pick up a guitar and start a band then it will be a mission accomplished.
The record release show was a week ago Sunday. You brought together a great lineup (Goddamn Gallows, The Welch Boys, and of course, Swingin’ Utters). Did you intend to make the release show such a big-name lineup, or did it just kind of come together that way?
We wanted to do something big. Originally we had the Unseen and the Explosion very close to committing to a date but it fell through. I asked our agent to contact the Swingin’ Utters agent and see what their plans were. We knew they had a new record out and there may be a chance they were coming to the Northeast. By sheer luck they were and it happened to be June 9 and they were really into the idea of doing a “co-headlining” thing. Actually they wanted us to play over them at first but we just didn’t feel right about that. They’re one of the bands that inspired us and there’s no way we would pull that shit to Boston’s hometown band that just happens to be from San Francisco. We’re all really psyched on seeing those guys play again. It’s been 10 years since I last saw them play and 14 years since Ducky Boys last played with them. Goddamn Gallows are on tour with The Utters. The Welch Boys were the band that we got to bring to the table. They’re my favorite Boston band at the moment because they share a lot of the altruistic values that we try to demonstrate. And they kick some serious ass on top of that.
Do you have any other Ducky Boys shows scheduled? Any plans to tour?
Nothing. But that doesn’t mean something won’t come up. Like I said earlier, we don’t follow the album/touring cycle so anything could happen.