As I write these words, we’re less than thirty-six hours away from the release of Peace And Love, yet another killer release from seminal Bay Area punk band Swingin’ Utters. The album is due out this Friday (August 31st) on Fat Wreck Chords – naturally – and as is par for the course with the Utters, there are an awful lot of modifiers we can use to describe the album: the ninth studio album in the band’s thirty-plus year career; their first album in four years; the first album since the departures of both bassist Miles Peck and founding drummer Greg McEntee; the most overtly-political album in the Swingin’ Utters library; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Perhaps the most appropriate descriptor, though, is that the album is really, really great.
We caught up over the phone with both frontman Johnny Bonnel and guitarist/occasional vocalist Jack Dalrymple to discuss all things Peace And Love, and what was readily apparent from the outset of both conversations is just how excited the band and its members are to have people hear the new material. “This was a really fun one,” says Dalrymple. “Every album I’ve done with those guys has been a weird process, but this was a fun one, man.” Bonnel, for his part, is even more emphatic. “This is probably the most excited I’ve been about a record by the Swingin’ Utters,” he explains, that excitement clearly evident in his voice.
Now, it’s a given that most band members are going to be excited about new material, particularly in the promotional run-up to an album’s debut; that’s the whole point, obviously. But the Utters – Bonnel specifically but more on that later – have a lot to be proud of this time up. As alluded to above, there are a handful of new faces among the ranks of the Swingin’ Utters. Greg McEntee departed from the bands ranks after the release of Fistful of Hollow and was replaced by Luke Ray, probably best known here from his days playing drums for Cobra Skulls. Miles Peck, who himself took over for longtime bassist Spike Slawson in 2012 and had taken on a more active songwriting role recently left last year. Peck was replaced by Tony Teixeira, Ray’s rhythm section sidekick in Cobra Skulls and, more recently, Sciatic Nerve.
While they didn’t factor into the meat of the songwriting process, Ray and Teixeira’s presences are very much an integral part of the sound of Peace And Love. “I think they’re amazing musicians and they’re great dudes, so we’re super stoked on that,” explains Bonnel, who himself is no stranger to having a long-time partner in the music-making process as he and Utters’ guitarist Darius Koski are nearing the three-decade mark as a team. Dalrymple elaborates, relating the connection between Ray and Teixeira to his own connection with Peck (whom he also appears in toyGuitar with): “They’re awesome! They’ve been playing together since they were kids, dude. Me and Miles were kind of locked in, because Miles is my buddy, and you get to this weird spot where you’re in each other’s heads. I know what he’s playing and what he’s thinking and what he’s going to do, and that’s the same way with Tony and Luke. They make this solid rhythm section, man.”
If you put your Swingin’ Utters discography playlist on “shuffle,” you don’t have to wait too long to encounter a few songs that sound nothing like the songs that come before or after them in the queue. That’s readily apparent on Peace And Love of course — see the Koski-penned Ramones ode “ECT,” or the surf-goth-Beatles-esque “Seeds Of Satisfaction” for proof — though more than in the recent past, some of those new directions and sounds come from Bonnel himself. While he’s always been an idea man, Bonnel wrote more on guitar than he has in the past. “I like that he’s WRITING writing now,” says Dalrymple. “It’s awesome, man. He comes in and he’s got these crazy, weird guitar riffs and we kinda work around those. It’s so awesome, man. (The Bonnel-penned “Louise And Her Spider”) is my favorite song by the Swingin’ Utters in a long time.“
Hearing his songs in their end form on the album is a source of pride for Bonnel, leading to his greater-than-normal sense of excitement leading up to Peace And Love‘s release. “A lot of the songs I wrote are all me,” he explains. “I didn’t collaborate as much on the writing process necessarily; I played them for the band and then the band took off with them. So yeah, (that excitement is) probably because it was more of a solo writing process for me.” That increased focus on solo songwriting from Bonnel also brought with it some nervous moments, especially when it came time to bring some of his more atypical ideas – see the appropriately-titled “Dubstep” – to the group. “I thought they’d think they were stupid,” says Bonnel half-jokingly. “Your brain kinda goes crazy worrying about that stuff, but as soon as I showed it to them and explained that I wanted (“Dubstep”) to be fairly tribal and dance-able on the drums and bass.” All the anxiety was, of course, for not. “They went for it. I really love what they did. They changed the songs from what I thought they would be and escalated them to something that I thought would never happen. I’m super pleased with the end product, and Luke and Tony had a lot to do with that.” Dalrymple, who shares co-writing credits with Bonnel on a few of the album’s tracks for the first time, glows about his partner’s input. “He’s the most artistic out of everybody. That dude is a real artist in all senses of the word. He’s quick, and he’s got this weird awesome vision that’s just different, man.”
Dalrymple, for his part, not only sings lead vocals but also has solo writing credit’s on Peace And Love‘s closing track, “H.L.S.” As you might imagine given the title, the song shares an influence with another Dalrymple-fronted track, albeit by a different project: toyGuitar’s “Turn It Around.” That, of course, is the 2015 passing of Dalrymple’s former One Man Army bandmate Heiko Schrepel. Dalrymple was gun-shy about including the song. “I think I was kinda nervous, man,” he explains, with some hesitation apparent. “It felt too raw, and maybe like it was too much. I didn’t really want to release it.” After playing an early version of the track for a few people, it was Koski who convinced him to give it a go. “He was like “I’ve got this idea. Hear me out! Hear me out!” And I didn’t even want to fucking do the song. In my world, that song would have been like after the record ended and two minutes of silence go by, then maybe that song starts. And Darius was like “no, fuck that, we gotta do it this way!”
The end result is a sweet, haunting, largely acoustic track, that provides a poignant, meaningful endnote to an album that’s pretty important album both within the band’s ranks and in the scene in general. Not only were Bonnel, Koski and Dalrymple able to overcome the loss of a few important contributors inside and outside the band, they were able to do so in a way that’s as charged-up and inspired as ever. In penning a few of their most outspokenly political songs to date in “Yes I Hope He Dies” and “Imitation Of Silence,” the Utters also plant their flag firmly in the camp that’s emphatically critical of what’s going on in the White House and at large. “Racism in the White House is a pretty serious thing,” states Bonnel. “I mean, racism is a thing that’s gone on since the beginning of time, but it’s at the point where something needs to be said. Things need to change, and we’re not the only ones doing this, for sure. It’s got to be a group effort.”
Head below to check out our conversations with both Bonnel and Dalrymple. Make sure you pick up Peace And Love on Friday!
(Surprisingly, the following interviews have been pared down for clarity and content. Enjoy!)
Dying Scene phoner with Johnny Bonnel
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): Congratulations I think are in order for Peace And Love. This is a really, really cool and fun album. As somebody who’s been putting out albums with the same band for more than a quarter century, do you get nerves about how albums are going to come across in the weeks before they’re due out?
Johnny Bonnel (Swingin’ Utters vocals): No, I don’t really get nervous about it. If I’m happy with the recordings and the songs on the record, it’s easy. If I’m happy, it’s cool. I don’t really get anxiety about what people it’s going to reach or who’s going to get it – or not get it. As long as I’m happy with the music – and I’m extremely happy with this record – it’s not a matter of hoping or wishing which ears like it and which ears don’t. If I’m happy with the end product, it’s good with me.
Has that changed over the years, or has that stayed pretty constant with you? Because I could see that dynamic being different a quarter of a century ago.
Yeah, when we were touring in the ‘90s and putting out records then, I was much more of a scatter-brain and riddled with anxiety all the time, so I would say that back then, I was more (into) “which way are we going? What direction are we going in?”…a little bit more conscious of what decisions you’re making and stuff. Now, if the end product makes me happy, I’m good. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
How long did this one take to come together? When did you all sit down and say “okay, enough is enough, time to do a new album”? Or is that even a conscious decision nowadays?
It’s usually a decision. It was four years since the last release (Fistful Of Hollow), and we had songs, but we never found time to practice them or to demo them. It was just a slow process, and by the time all the songs got demoed on our computers and whatnot, the process finally went pretty quick. We had a few practices – maybe a week’s worth of practices – and got the songs as tight as we could. Then we went into the studio and belted them out fairly quickly. We recorded it live, and we were done within a week.
Wow! Is recording live something you’ve done before, or at least over the last few albums since the hiatus was over? It seems like this album has a bit of a different feel, and so maybe some of that is recording live, and maybe some of that was the new guys…
Yeah, it was probably both. The new guys are a completely different rhythm section and you can hear it. I think they’re amazing musicians and they’re great dudes, so we’re super stoked on that. We usually don’t do it live in the past, and I have no idea why we didn’t. I think we had a little problem where we were kinda sloppy, but with this rhythm section and with the amount of time me and Darius have been playing together, it’s a quicker process for sure. So live is easier.
Well Tony and Luke have been playing together in other bands for years too, right?
Yeah, this is true.
I know they don’t have writing credits on the album, but those guys and their presence is very much apparent on this album. How long did it take to get them into the fold as to how the Swingin’ Utters work versus their other bands?
It took a couple tours with them. When Luke first joined, it was hard for me to get used to his drumming. It was amazing drumming, but it was hard for me to know where his accents were and all that stuff. Playing live and touring over those few months sort of got me to get to know him a little bit more and his accents and his drum moves. Same with Tony, just learning how to be with them in a band. Live is the best experience, I think, and you learn from that. When we went into the studio, I knew that they were great musicians so I put all my trust in that. I wrote really simple, basic, rudimentary songs and gave them the freedom to take it and do what they wanted with it. I have full trust in every band member, and that’s a nice feeling.
I was going to say, that’s got to be a comforting thing. There’s been obviously a lot of moving parts over the years, aside from you and Darius, so it’s got to be a cool feeling to have a comfort level and a level of trust so quickly with guys that are so new to the mix. That’s got to be difficult for them, too, I would imagine.
Oh for sure, yeah. You’ve got to learn the new personalities and the quirks. It was an easy process because they’re such nice dudes and they’re so easy to get along with. It was pretty quick to put my trust in that.
There’s a lot of collaborating on this album – obviously, because it’s a Swingin Utters album – but has the process between you and Darius in particular changed much over the years? Do you have the same sort of chemistry and process that you’ve always had?
These days it’s different. He lives an hour-and-a-half away, so I don’t always have the time to cruise over to Santa Cruz to demo with him. That’s how we used to do it. I used to just go over his house and I would sing him songs and he would put the chords to it. I’ve been taking a little more of the responsibility of writing on guitar and then sending him my little rough demos. Then he does his demos separately and sends them back to me, and that’s how we’ve been bouncing them back and forth and learning each other’s parts. Back in the day, in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, we used to meet up and sit down and actually hash out songs together.
Do you miss that part, or is this just standard operating procedure now? I feel like most bands that have been around for a long time are in a similar situation. Do you miss those old days of just being in the same room and cranking them out?
For sure, yeah. I really do miss that, but it’s just not really feasible. It’s a lot of fun. Plus, it’s good to hang out with good friends and play music together. It’s a therapeutic thing for me.
I’m talking to Jack in an hour or so, and there are a couple songs that I was hoping to get thoughts on from both of you if that’s cool.
“Demons of Springtime” is one of them. I know that’s a you and Jack collaboration. I’m curious as to how that one came about, as that’s a weird little song. I had it on in the car the other day and my daughter was listening along with me, and we got to that last chorus and she said “boy, that’s confusing…”
Yeah, it’s dark and happy at the same time. Jack usually sends me music without anything on top of it, no melody or anything. He has all the parts, and he uses a drum machine, and every time he sends me something, for some reason, it strikes a chord with me and I end up writing a song really quick. I end up repeating something in my head and it comes along really quickly. His style of playing is really quirky and strange…it’s got a dark quality, but it’s also got a hopeful, lilting quality and a pop sensibility as well. So it’s really easy for me to write to that stuff. It usually comes to me within the half-hour after he sends it. We don’t want to ruin a good thing, so that’s how me and Jack usually work; he sends me stuff that he thinks I might like and I usually write it really quick and then we usually demo it together.
Another one I’m curious about…you guys have obviously taken a lot of chances over the years, enough so that there’s not necessarily a single, trademark Swingin’ Utters sound at this point, but just when you think you guys have pushed the limits as far as they’ll go, a song like “Dubstep” comes along. Talk about a weird song, it’s almost like three different songs mashed together. Where does that one come from?
That’s how I’ve been writing lately. I’ve been doing it in a primitive style. Instead of doing a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-out, or something like that, I’ll just come up with two different parts that are pleasing to me, and I sort of get the idea in my head to piece them together. With “Dubstep,” I have those bookend parts of “walk, don’t run…” and that easily could be a full song. It probably will be at some point. But yeah, I’ve been just writing that way, taking two different guitar lines repeated over, almost like a dance song, or like a sample just repeating over and over, and then just coming up with some weird lyrics. That’s my style of writing right now. It’ll probably change, but who knows, I kinda like it. It’s working for me.
Oh totally. And there’s a handful of songs that take a similar, weird directional turns. “Deranged” is another one that’s almost two different songs; it’s got the same intro and outro and then the body of the song is different entirely. I like when you take a bunch of those weird left turns and (I like) trying to figure out where you’re going. I think that’s one of the things that Swingin’ Utters fans like about Swingin’ Utters, you know?
That sounds good to me! I do like little surprises in songs, and most of our songs are around two minutes, they’re not songs that you can really get sick of, and that style of writing sort of plays into that. (Punk rock songs) can get sort of repetitive, so it’s nice to have little changes here and there.
You’ve also got some of the most overtly political songs in the Swingin’ Utters career on this one, so let’s start with “Yes I Hope He Dies.” That song is subtle…
Yeah, it’s sort of irrational-slash-rational thoughts that you might have in your head. Like, “yeah, that might take care of things if that happened.” It’s wishful thinking. That’s what that song’s about.
Was there ever any sort of pause about the potential for blowback from a song like that? I don’t want to say it getting to the wrong ears, but it’s not exactly a subtle song, so was there any conversation about “boy, is this a direction we want to go that specifically?”
Well, I don’t really say the actual name of who I want to die (*laughs*) so it’s sort of open to interpretation? (*laughs*) People are going to be offended by anything, so I expect that to happen to someone eventually. I’m not going to stress over that.
I was going to say that you wouldn’t imagine that a person in the Swingin’ Utters fanbase would be offended by something like that, but then look what happened at the Social D show a couple days ago.
Exactly. We already got a post on one of the Swingin’ Utters websites where a bunch of Trump supporters started going off in the replies. It got kinda heated, and I think it was a line from that song (that they were offended by). So yeah, they’re out there. Even amongst Utter fans.
“Imitation of Silence” is another song that’s overtly political. I’ve talked to a few other bands about this over the last year or so, but was there a sense that it’s important to get something on record that is explicitly anti- what’s going on right now?
Yeah, I think it is important. Racism in the White House is a pretty serious thing. I mean, racism is a thing that’s gone on since the beginning of time, but it’s at the point where something needs to be said. (At this point, one of our phones started breaking up somewhat comically.) Things need to change, and we’re not the only ones doing this, for sure. It’s got to be a group effort.
Oh, for sure. I think it’s important to be counted among the masses of people who are specifically on this side, you know what I mean?
Yeah, I agree, for sure.
I’m excited for Utters fans to hear the new album. Are you excited to get on the road and start working the new songs into the setlist?
Yeah, I am. I’m curious to see how they go over. This is probably the most excited I’ve been about a record by the Swingin’ Utters. It’s coming up quick; I’m printing shirts for the tour right now. We’re pretty excited about the record, but we’re also excited to get out there and see what the reactions are to these new songs.
What do you think has you the most excited about this one in particular out of all of them over the last thirty years?
It might be because I wrote a lot of songs. A lot of the songs I wrote are all me; I didn’t collaborate as much on the writing process necessarily; I played them for the band and then the band took off with them. So yeah, probably because it was more of a solo writing process for me. I’m really happy with how my songs turned out, and I also love a lot of Darius’s songs on this record. And I always want Jack to sing at least one song on an album. I want to collaborate more with him, because I think I have the most fun collaborating with him right now.
I could imagine. When you’re writing songs by yourself and submitting them to the band, does that part make you nervous at all? Like, “what the hell are the guys going to think about this one?” Or are you guys all sort of supportive about whatever somebody brings to the table?
I was definitely nervous. I thought they would think that they’re stupid, because it was just repeating the same thing over and over and then changing to a different pace or almost like a different song, like that two-songs-in-one thing we were talking about. I thought they’d think they were stupid. Your brain kinda goes crazy worrying about that stuff, but as soon as I showed it to them and explained that I wanted it to be fairly tribal and dance-able on the drums and bass, they went for it. I really love what they did. They changed the songs from what I thought they would be and escalated them to something that I thought would never happen. I’m super pleased with the end product, and Luke and Tony had a lot to do with that.
I’m looking forward to hearing a couple of your songs specifically on the road. “Sleeping” is one that’s really cool. It’s not necessarily a traditional Utters song, but there’s a real cool vibe to it. I hope that one’s on the list when you’re out this way.
Oh cool! Darius didn’t write that on the list of songs to learn for this tour (*both laugh*) but who knows, I think it’s a pretty easy one to learn.
I like the way that one sort of breaks things up on the album a little bit.
Yeah, I sort of got that idea from early hardcore records or punk records. Husker Du used to always have some sort of weird song on an album. The Replacements always used to have a weird song there. Black Flag, of course. On the albums that I like from the 70’s and 80’s, there’s always like one song that’s kind of out there and bizarre,and that doesn’t really fit into the record, but it does sort of fit at the same time and it’s just so weird. I’ve always liked that about the old SST Records.
Dying Scene phoner with Jack Dalrymple
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): As a longtime fan of your entire musical catalog, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.
Jack Dalrymple: Oh, that’s very sweet of you!
Do you get that a lot? And this is maybe a weird place to start an interview, but there are a lot of people who I think … ‘worship at the temple of Jack Dalrymple’ might be overstating it, but there are a lot of people in music that are really, really big Jack Dalrymple fans.
I don’t get it that much, man. But when I do, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m like that guy that can’t take a compliment anyway, so I just have to swallow it. But no, I don’t get that much, so it’s really fucking awesome when I hear it. It blows me away that there are people that like these crappy little songs I write.
Well I don’t know that we agree on the word “crappy” necessarily…(*both laugh*) I’m from the Boston area, and I think the only time that toyGuitar played here was on the big Fat Wreck Chords tour a handful of years ago. You guys played early in the afternoon on like a Tuesday, and there were a lot of people from our music scene here that were like “man, we gotta take the day off from work and go see Jack’s band!”
(*laughs*) Oh man, that’s awesome. Yeah, I remember that show. I think that is the only time we’ve ever been there. Yeah, it was super early in the afternoon. I think we played second?
Yeah, I wanna say Bad Cop/Bad Cop went on at like 2 in the afternoon, and then it was you guys.
Yup! That was crazy. That was fun. I would love to get out there more with toyGuitar, but everyone’s having babies now, so we’re taking a little time.
I know the Utters have a few dates out this way; the closest is in Hartford with Bouncing Souls, I think. Are you on those shows?
No, I’d love to, but man…I’ve got to prioritize just with work and stuff. Being in so many bands, I can’t keep taking time off to tour with all of them because they’re just going to fire me, and I really need the benefits right now. I literally work that job for the benefits and so that I can live in San Francisco, which is insanely expensive. So I’ve got to pick and choose, man, and I feel terrible. I just did a Dead To Me tour that took up a lot of time, and those Utters guys are like my brothers, so I’m bummed.
What is your day job, out of curiosity? I feel like I don’t know that. I know Darius is a plumber, but what is your day job?
I work with animals at the SPCA. It’s super early, early hours, lots of poop, lots of butts. It’s cool. It’s really awesome, and I do feel like I’m doing a good thing. But it’s also reaffirming that humans are really, really shitty to animals sometimes, and I see a lot of that. They’re really supportive about me going out, I just can’t abuse it.
Thank you for taking some time out of your Saturday morning to chat for a few.
Dude, my kid is out in the kitchen right now making slime, making a mess, so this allowed me to step away.
That slime thing…my daughter is ten-and-a-half, and my god man…
My shaving cream is out there. Oh my god, it’s a mess. I’m stepping away.
Or you go to look for your contact lens solution and there is none. (*both laugh*) And there’s no glue in the house…
She’s ten and a half?
Yeah, my guy is almost ten, so you know what’s up.
So anyway…(*both laugh*) Congratulations on Peace & Love. This is a really cool and fun album.
I like it. It’s really, really cool. I feel like every Utters album that I’ve been involved with has been a weird process. Like, the way the songs are constructed or who gets what. But this was a really fun one, man. Plus, Luke’s there now and Tony’s there now. It was a really cool process this time around.
As somebody who’s been in the band for a while but not obviously from the beginning…and as somebody who came in to the process as a fan of the band…do Luke and Tony look to you sort of as a bridge between…I don’t even know if this is a question or just a thought that popped into my head…but you’ve been around the band obviously a lot longer than they have, so if you signed on eight or ten years ago…
It was actually 2005!
Yeah, all of a sudden I’ve been there forever!! (*both laugh*) I don’t know if they look at me so much as a bridge, really. It’s incestuous here in San Francisco, so we’ve all known each other forever. I’ve known Tony and Luke from their other bands. It was probably easier for Tony because Luke was already there, and those guys are homies. They grew up playing music together. Man, it’s such an easy process. Darius and Johnny make it easy, man. It made for a really fun record. Johnny’s song “Louise And Her Spider” I think is my favorite song by the Swingin’ Utters in a long, long time. I fucking love that song.
It’s such a weird little song. But then I feel like all of Johnny’s songs are…I quite literally just got off the phone with Johnny…but I feel like all of his songs on this album are weird and I love it.
Me too. I like that he’s writing writing now. I mean, he may have before, but he’s writing on the guitar more now, and it’s awesome, man. He comes in and he’s got these crazy, weird guitar riffs and we kinda work around those. It’s so awesome, man. That song is my favorite song.
He did talk about how he hasn’t really done that much lately, and about being nervous about bringing some of those ideas to you and Darius and you guys thinking they’d be too weird. Like that “Dubstep” song, where it’s like two different songs mashed together. But then he said you guys were like “this is really cool!”
Yeah, yeah, yeah! He did a teeny bit of that on the last record. Him and Miles collaborated on a few things. I think he might have been showing that stuff more to Miles on the last one and they would hash things out and it made for some cool songs.
Yeah, I think “Alice” is a Johnny and Miles song.
Yeah, exactly! And that “End Of The Weak” song too. That’s a cool song.
So how did this one differ for you in making it, aside from just the obvious that there are some different parts this time around?
I don’t know…I think me and Darius did one, that “Sirens” song. I feel like I maybe wasn’t around for a little bit of the writing process on this one. I got more with those guys in the studio. Me and Johnny did a lot of sending songs back and forth. That was like our normal thing. I don’t think I was there for a lot of the pre-pre-pre recording stuff. Those other ones, I had a lot more time where I was there, I think.
Well, you’ve got “Undertaker, Undertake” credited to you and Johnny. You and Darius and Miles have “Sirens.”
That’s right! Miles wrote the original drumbeat. That was a crazy process. So I got two on there!
Plus “Demons Of Springtime.” And then obviously “H.L.S.” which is a song I wanted to talk about anyway. So you got four on there! I remember trading emails with Vanessa (from Fat Wreck Chords) when the last toyGuitar EP came out and she said something like “you’re gonna probably cry when you get to the last song (“Turn It Around“) because it’s about Heiko (Schrepel, Dalrymple’s One Man Army bandmate).” And I listened to it and and she was right. That song is so good. So then I heard this song and I thought “Jesus…”
So, the toyGuitar song “Turn It Around” and this song started as the same song. The Heiko song now was the first one, and I had all the same words. But it got to be so…I think I was kinda nervous, man. It felt too raw, and maybe like it was too much. I didn’t really want to release it. I showed Darius, I showed Spike and Audra (Slawson). I showed a couple people that song. And Darius was like “We gotta use that song! We gotta use that song!” And I kept trying to stall. And then, I think I caved. For toyGuitar, I wrote it a little bit different, because Miles had a lot of the music for that song. It came out rad on this one, man.
How quickly after Heiko passed away did you write this song especially? It sounds really, really raw.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have a phone version of the song in my closet, and I did like three or four takes, and it was really, really hard for me to get through it. I was essentially sobbing and shit in my closet. I don’t remember how long after it was. I know there was a memorial service where we went…(*pauses*) a lot of his homies, we all went out on a boat in the Bay and spread his ashes around. I think it was around that time, but it really was all a blur of pain and sorrow. It wasn’t too long afterwards.
Does having the toyGuitar version out already and the Utters’ version out now provide some sense of…I don’t want to say closure because that’s way too psychoanalytical, but does it sort of help bring peace to the situation a little bit?
Yeah, I think I’ve been at peace with it for a little bit. I have these moments, though, and I think I said it in the song, that he used to live in the house I live in now. He used to live in the laundry room, and there’s some stuff that he hung up that’s still up in the laundry room. So his ghost, so to speak, is still there for sure. But it’s cool…(*pauses*) I feel sad when I see videos and when people say stuff. It hurts a little bit and I think it will always hurt. I think (that hurt is) supposed to be there, though. But this is definitely closure, for sure.
Whose idea was it to bring the full band in at the end?
Darius’s. He was like “I’ve got this idea. Hear me out! Hear me out!” And I didn’t even want to fucking do the song. In my world, that song would have been like after the record ended and two minutes of silence go by, then maybe that song starts. And Darius was like “no, fuck that, we gotta do it this way!” So that was all Darius.
I think the first time I listened to the album, I was in the car with my kid, and that song came on and she had some really astute observation about that song. She asked what it was about because she knew it was a sad song…
As kids do! They’re geniuses!
When the whole band kicked in at the end, she was like “daddy, I feel like in your music, I feel like a lot of the sad songs end this way so that when you’re listening you’re not so sad when the song is over!” And I was like “Holy shit! That’s perfect!”
(*both laugh*) That’s awesome! From the mouths of babes! Give her a high five for me!.
There are couple other songs that I talked to Johnny about that I was hoping to get your input about too. “Demons Of Springtime” is one of them. It’s a you and Johnny song, and it’s so weird and I love it. How did that one come together?
That one…dude, so I have this old (recording) machine and it literally can’t even put any more songs on it. It has like a hundred songs on it, and I think I was going back trying to make room and deleting songs that I didn’t like and I saw that one and I didn’t know what to do with it. I don’t think I sent it to Dead To Me, I might have only sent it to Johnny. But he is so quick…if I send him something, he just cranks him out. He has these words and the melodies just come to him. And I didn’t hear any of the pre-production on it I don’t think, but I heard it when I got to the studio and it was fucking awesome! (*laughs*) It was really, really cool. His songs are weird and they don’t follow a formula. I can’t always tell what a verse or a chorus is sometimes, and I think that’s really, really cool.
That song in particular, when I was making notes the first time I really sat down with the album, I got to a part and I think I wrote “I don’t know if this is the 3rd verse or the outro but this rules.”
So you see where I’m at, man! That’s awesome! (*both laugh*)
That line about “how joyous I am/there’s no such thing as happiness” at the end. My kid was like “boy, this is a confusing song.”
Haha! Yeah. That part is so sick. His words are really crazy. Him and Darius are so different lyrically. Darius writes these really amazing songs. As a listener, I think that Johnny’s lyrics evoke more of an image, you know what I’m saying? He uses these crazy words and patterns and it’s weird and awesome.
Is it a different process writing with him than it is writing with the other 3,841 other projects you’ve been in? (*both laugh*)
It’s different. He’s the most artistic out of everybody. That dude is a real artist in all senses of the word. He’s quick, and he’s got this weird awesome vision that’s just different, man. As is writing with Tyson or writing with Miles and Rosie and Alex. It’s different in a cool way, and I think that’s why I stick around all these different things. It’s cool, man. It keeps me interested.
Having a different process with each band, is that sort of the point of having a few different projects going at the same time?
I didn’t try to have it like this, man! (*both laugh*) I just…after the One Man Army stuff, we we’re trying to figure out if I started Dead To Me first or joined the Utters first, because they’re right around the same time. I think the pitch was that I didn’t have to sing in Dead To Me, they just wanted me to play guitar. I was like “oh fuck yeah! That’s perfect! I’m tired of singing!” I was just coming off One Man Army and I was just over it. So I just did that. It’s been fun man. These guys are all dads, so I can ask them dad advice, because they were dads and playing music, and I didn’t know how to do all that shit, man. It’s hard.
I can only imagine how hard that part is…
(*pauses*) Yeah…it’s hard schedule-wise. I’m pushing a little bit, you know what I’m saying? My wife’s involved too, so I can’t just say “okay, I’m leaving to go on tour, see you later.” No, I do these bands because I feel like…I write the same shitty songs I always write, and so if i go through Johnny it gets his filter on it, and if I go through Tyson it gets his filter on it, and if I go to toyGuitar it gets their filter on it. I feel like it’s the same song when it comes out of me…
So you don’t write for one particular project?
No, it just goes where it goes. I think it’s who you play with, because everyone plays so different. I think if I was just a solo, weird guy, like “no, this is the song and it’s going to be like this. This is how I want my song…” that sucks. I like it when people play as a band and everyone contributes. Like I’ll bring in some bones or Miles will bring in some stuff or Darius or Johnny or Tyson… that’s the fun part of it. That’s what being in a band is all about, hanging out with your friends and playing music together.
I was going to ask a while ago…I feel like it never really got talked about much that Miles wasn’t in the band anymore. I talked to Darius around when his last solo album came out and there was a little East Coast run that he did opening for the Utters, and he mentioned that Tony was in the band. And I was bummed, because I really like the way that you two work together and your sounds played off each other. But man…Luke and Tony are pretty fucking awesome too!
They’re awesome!! They’ve been playing together since they were kids, dude. So those dudes…you know how me and Miles were kind of locked in, because Miles is my buddy, and you get to this weird spot where you’re in each other’s heads. I know what he’s playing and what he’s thinking and what he’s going to do, and that’s the same way with Tony and Luke. They make this solid rhythm section, man. The Miles departure was hard for me, personally, honestly, because that was my guy, man. He still is my guy, and I still hang out with him and he just had a baby. And I’m sure it was hard on Darius and Johnny, too. Miles is a sweet, sweet dude.
I only met him in passing a couple times, but he seems like just a genuinely nice guy.
Yeah, he’s good people. He’s one of those people that you can just feel that about him. He hasn’t got a shitty fucking bone in his body. He’s a stand-up dude. I love that guy. So it was hard when he left, I’ll be honest. But that being said, I haven’t played a lot with both Tony and Luke – I’ve played a lot with Luke but maybe just a handful of shows with Tony – but it’s been real fun. Tony’s a badass, sick ass musician.
I feel like even though they don’t have writing credits on the album, their influence is all over the album, you know what I mean?
Yeah! It is! It sounds a little bit different than the last record, and I think that’s because of them and their playing style.
And Johnny mentioned that you guys recorded this one live too, which is a bit of a different turn from the last few albums.
Yeah, for sure. I think we did it…I don’t know if it was for feel, if we were trying to get to a certain way for it to sound, or if it was to expedite things, but this was a fun process. I like doing live recordings. I’m not trying to sound like an old guy, but on all those old One Man Army recordings, you had to just sit down and cut tape and track these things live. I like doing it that way. I like a little bit more imperfection; I don’t like perfect sound…I purposely won’t tune my guitar, which I know drives the engineer or whoever’s recording it absolutely fucking crazy. But I like it when it gets a little tuney, man. It’s honest to me, and it’s weird and it’s more relatable. I like the little imperfections, so the live recording process is always up my alley.
Well, and it gives the album more of a live performance feel even though it’s not. It might sound a little off here or there, but that’s the whole fucking point.
Exactly! Not lined up pitch perfect on ProTools and stuff.
This is maybe a weird question, but as somebody that’s been putting out music in various forms for a quarter century or whatever it is at this point…
(*laughs*) Sooo long!! (*laughs*)
When you say a quarter-century or “going on thirty years” or something…
It sucks! I mean it’s awesome but it sucks! I should be doing other stuff! I should be more successful, not broke…
Well, I don’t view it that way. But I just mean thinking back to music my parents were listening to when I was growing up, if you talked about somebody who had been putting out albums for thirty years, you went “god, those guys are dinosaurs.” But the Utters and Bouncing Souls and Face To Face and bands like that have been around for twenty-five, thirty years and still putting out music that’s cool. But as somebody who’s been in the game for that long, do you get nervous when you have an album done and it’s about to come out, to see what people think about it? Or has that ship sailed?
No, I don’t know that I’ve ever had it. For me, the only nervous part I’ve ever had is playing live. That’s where I feel nerves and stuff. But I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten super, super nervous when an album is done, I’m just super, super relieved that it’s done. I have a hard time listening to them after they’re done, because you listen to them so many times when you’re writing and recording these songs. I literally want to say “if you don’t like it, go fuck yourself and start your own band.” I’m stoked for people to hear it. It’s just playing live that I still get crazy nervous.
Yeah, dude! All the time?
Is that different depending on who you’re playing with?
No, I’m just nervous all the time. It’s easier when I’m not singing. But I feel like that’s a normal thing. Maybe if I stopped being nervous, it would just be super boring and I’d have to stop playing music.
Well, sir, I don’t want to take up too much of your late morning…
You’re not, man! You’re saving me from slime!
I feel like the slime thing just won’t go away. Usually these things go in phases. Like fidget spinners…
Yeah, those are done.
Right, that was like six weeks. Fucking slime, man…there are random bags of slime everywhere in our house. In fact, I’m looking at one on my porch right now.
What I have learned, his hair is getting a lot longer again, but you’re supposed to use Pepsi if you get it in her hair, man. That has happened multiple times here. So that’s my pro tip to you. Use Pepsi to get it out!
Yeah, we don’t always think that part through. (*both laugh*) It’s “daddy, I’m making slime” and not so much “oh, I should figure out how to prevent a mess…”
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