There comes a time in the life of many a local band when the inevitable “shit-or-get-off-the-pot” decision presents itself. There are seemingly limitless potential catalysts for such a decision: excessive drinking and drugs, fights over who wasn’t pulling their weight at load in/load out, band members getting married, band members having kids, people bring unable to tour due to day jobs or unwilling to tour due to lack of motivation, and on and on and on. For now-defunct Boston punk band Dead Ellington, that moment came by way of a principle member moving across country. Says former frontman Sal “Ellington” Medrano: “In a nutshell, my best friend at the time and band member Jason (Caira) wanted to move to California… We we made the band right after high school together. He gave me a date that he was leaving and said I could not book anymore shows past that. I was thinking that, well, if we can’t be a band past then, then I guess I don’t really have much of a choice.”
In fact, Medrano did have a choice, albeit a bit of an imperfect one. “I could try to start another band, or I could just not be in a band at all,” says Medrano. The latter seems a tad unrealistic for someone who has been in and around the Boston scene for as long as Medrano. But the fracturing of a band, of any relationship really, can force one to contemplate some rather existential issues. “Not being in a band anymore was, at the time, a very strong option,” Medrano comments rather directly. “I could just not throw my money into this anymore and not stress myself out with everything that comes along with it. But I kind of enjoyed it too much to just not do that.”
Medrano had already had a batch of songs written that were a little different than his previous Dead Ellington efforts. Committed to seeing his ideas through, Medrano contacted some of the various one-time members of Dead Ellington for his new project. But while many of the names and faces would be the same, their roles, and ultimately the vibe, would be very different. In addition to tackling vocal duties as he had in Ellington, Medrano, a drummer by trade, decided to pick up a guitar. “I said I’d suck it up and play guitar in this band,” Medrano says, only half-jokingly. “There’s plenty of people who are awful at guitar who are in bigger bands, so I can be awful at guitar and be in a band as well!” He enlisted the help of one-time Dead Ellington drummer Craig Stanton, though Stanton had no real desire to man the drumkit in the new project. Instead, Stanton, who’d been writing ideas of his own on guitar for a while, joined as essentially a co-guitarist and dual vocalist. Bass playing duties would be handled by Dan Carswell, who’d learned bass specifically to join Dead Ellington on their last tour dates. Still in need of a drummer, for their first batch of songs, Medrano and company turned to Rick Smith who, while a drum instructor, was perhaps best known in Dead Ellington circles for his keyboarding duties. However, Smith had no lingering desire to join as a full-time drummer. Who was left to turn to? Former Dead Ellington bass player and admittedly, says Medrano, “the best guitar player any of us know,” Brandon Phillips.
And so it was that Rebuilder was born.
Many of the parts may be pre-existing, and they may have taken a bit of a circuitous route in coming together, but the reception Rebuilder (with Smith providing keyboard duties whenever possible) has already been different than the reception to Dead Ellington’s seven-ish year run ever was. How different? “It’s night and day,” says Medrano (pictured above in the American flag shirt alongside his Rebuilder bandmates at the Rock And Roll In America release show). So different, in fact, that “it’s really one of those things where I wish that I stopped doing Dead Ellington a long time ago. I think I was not able to look at the band and see that it wasn’t working.” Now in their third year as a band, Rebuilder have already put out an EP (plus a bonus Christmas EP), opened for the likes of Dropkick Murphys, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Frank Turner, booked a few of their own tours, made appearances at the Pouzza and Skate & Surf Fests, and booked shows at this year’s Fest in Gainesville. Their debut full length, Rock and Roll In America, was just released via New Jersey’s Panic State Records, and strong enough that it can only serve to propel the band forward.
It takes less than one full listen to realize that RNRIA was written and recorded as an album, rather than as merely a collection of a dozen-or-so songs that sound okay together. One of the bigger differences between Dead Ellington and Rebuilder are the the lyrics themselves. Frequently one for being nothing if not honest, Medrano admits that in Dead Ellington, the goal was to write more for what it was assumed people wanted to hear. In Rebuilder, that level of pretense has disappeared, finding Medrano and Stanton writing their lyrics more for themselves, as a way to process their own issues. Though the two wrote their respective lyrics separately, you’d never really know it by listening to the album, as the words and their voices blend seamlessly.
If you’re of a certain age and thus grew up in the modern Golden Age of American punk music, you’ll no doubt recognize some familiar themes. Depression. Anxiety. Alienation. Being an outcast. The same energy that launched legions of Lookout Records and Fat Wreck Chords bands a generation ago. “I wasn’t really a popular kid growing up, I kinda just stayed home and played drums all day,” says Medrano in a sentiment that’s been echoed by millions. “You find music that speaks to you, really,” he continues. “I remember when I first listened to NOFX, they were the first punk band I ever heard. And for as goofy as it is, there are themes in there that are just about growing up and being alienated. I think that’s why I gravitated towards punk rock. And I think that’s always been why I wanted to play music.”
And yet, somewhere along the line, the themes that essentially fed the punk movement for so long seem to have gotten lost in the crowd somewhere. “I don’t see a bunch of teenage kids starting bands anymore,” says Medrano. “When I walk in to a Guitar Center, they’re selling either more towards EDM or just not selling really cool shit at all. A lot of teenagers that aren’t starting a lot of bands and that aren’t putting their heart and effort into it because there isn’t any real role model.” Rebuilder in general, and Rock And Roll In America specifically, are a big step in the direction of taking some of that back. While there’s an earnest, at times startling, amount of sincerity in the vocals both on record and particularly in live performances, Medrano and company are careful to not take themselves too seriously, as evidenced by even the quickest of looks at their Bill Murray (formerly Bill Cosby) -adorned merch, or Medrano’s Instagram page. “I do think we’re really lucky to do what we’re doing, even though we’re definitely not making a living doing it,” says Medrano.” “Just the fact that this record is out and that people like it is a big deal to us. It’s a big deal to me because I’m always, like, ‘if I die tomorrow, will I leave anything behind that’s having any lasting effect?’ The fact that this is out and will always be out makes me very happy.”
Head below to check out our discussion in full. We cover a lot of ground, from the Dead Ellington years to the state of the Warped Tour, to singing a song with a chorus that includes “anything’s better than New Jersey” to a bunch of kids in Asbury Park, to a virtual how-to on getting involved in bands and making connections in your scene, even if your own scene doesn’t have its own Dropkick Murphys or Mighty Mighty Bosstones to guide the way.
Rock And Roll In America was released June 2nd on Panic State Records. Get it here.
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So, I guess first and foremost, congratulations on Rock And Roll In America. I know that we’ve probably talked about it before, but I really, really love the album start to finish.
Rebuilder (Sal Medrano): Dude, thanks a lot.
I do feel weird saying that at times, because I was there for part of the recording of it, and then for the record release show, so it feels like I’ve seen it in stages. And I’m trying not to be biased about it, but I really do love the album. So for what that’s worth, congratulations.
You know, I’m really happy with it. And I know that every person in a band always says that for every record they release, but in my previous band, and really anything I’ve ever done, at the end of it, I’ve never been terribly psyched about it. I’ve always thought “oh, we could have done this better” or I wasn’t happy with the process or how things went. I think I’m really at that point where I’m super happy about the whole thing with the record and how it flows, and the song choices that we made, the way it was recorded with Jay (Maas)…everything about it I’m really happy about. It seems like a lot of people really, really like it. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments about it. I think it’s probably the best musical thing I’ve ever been a part of.
You mentioned the album having a sort of flow to it; and it’s not necessarily a concept album, and I don’t think that you guys would use that term…
But it’s very much a theme album I think.
I hear that too. I think there’s definitely a theme to the record.
Was the goal to make it a cohesive unit? Because it doesn’t sound like just a collection of eleven songs or whatever it is. It sounds like an ‘album,’ in the old-fashioned sense of the word. There seems to be a purpose for what came where and there’s a flow to it and a lot of melody that’s woven through a few times.
There was a lot of thought put in to it between everyone, but specifically with me and Craig (Stanton, guitar and vocals). Never did me and Craig sit down and write lyrics together.
That’s not what we do. Sometimes we have our respective songs. Sometimes there’s just a part that I have that he helped finish or vice versa. Even “Le Grand Fromage” was a song that Daniel (Carswell, bass) wrote that me and Craig worked on. “The White Flag” was a song that me and Brandon (Phillips, drums, not second base) worked on. But whenever we wrote lyrics, Craig wrote his own lyrics and I wrote my own ,and it was kinda cool that when we had everything together, our lyrics definitely complimented each other. There were lines that he wrote that I could really very much relate to. We never sat down and talked about it, so it kinda just happened and worked out really well. So in listening to the record and having all the songs together, I feel like there’s this theme of really trying to make it and working hard and self-discovery. A lot of those themes are in the record, and it just happened naturally. Musically, trying to make things flow together, a big thing was like “When I Grow Up,” how “Empty Streets” before it, Craig wrote to be an intro, like that should be Side B of the record. We wrote it with that intention, that it would be Side B. The very last thing we did was the little intro theme to the record, because they thought it would tie everything together. It was very much pulling pieces and figuring out where things go, and the flow of everything was very important to us. I think Craig said at one point that there’s a Bruce Springsteen record that he always felt, like, track five never really made sense when you listened to it through on CD or MP3. And then, when he got the vinyl of it, given that that was the beginning track to the other side, it was like “oh, that’s why that song’s there. It makes sense now. That’s how you think through an album.” So that’s how we came up with that flow.
Did that decision come easily? I don’t think that a lot of people, or at least people under, I don’t know, my age, think in terms of albums and having a clear Side A and Side B. So did that come naturally, or did you put a lot of work into it?
It wasn’t a whole lot of work. We had enough songs. We were writing a whole lot of songs geared toward a full-length record. But we really had no idea what we were going to do, because we weren’t on a record label and I had already done the thing where we could just put it out ourselves, but then you have to order 1000 CDs and it’s not the most cost-effective thing, and then they’re sitting around forever and you don’t make back any of the money you put into it, and then you’re broke. So I didn’t want to do that. And even with our first EP, we didn’t do that. We recorded it ourselves and then put it out for free which, for what it is, was a good way to introduce our stuff to everyone. But we couldn’t progress that way. The next step was ‘we have to go to a real place. We have to put out something else; it’s been two years and we haven’t put out anything.’ We pretty much talked about how we were going to have to find a home for this first, or we might never even do a record. We might not go in and record if there’s not a home for this. We don’t want to put all our money and be broke and have something that might not sell a lot of copies of. And we thought the record was really important. We wrote and recorded the record on our own and demoed out, and we thought that for how important the record was, for us to release it on our own and have nobody to champion it, even if the record is great, it’s just going to stay hidden under the radar because nobody outside our immediate circle is going to know it even happened.
We did sent out the record to friends to see if anyone was interested. Rick (Smith, keyboards) played a show in Asbury Park as part of the Panic State anniversary show…
…Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. With Lenny (Lashley).
Yeah, Lenny was on that show and Rick was playing keys with Lenny. Rick was like ‘we’re looking for a home for this record, I don’t know if you’re interested,” (and Lenny said) “send it to them.” (Panic State Records owner) Bean called me probably two days later and said they wanted to release it on vinyl. The second that we knew that was going to happen was when we got into the flow. Knowing that someone was going to release it on vinyl, we knew that was going to be the main format that it was going to be out on, so we wrote it and put it together knowing that it was going to be on vinyl. We pressed the CDs ourselves in our own way, the way we did the first EP where we do our own silkscreen cover. And we do like 100 at a time.
I know that we’ve talked about it before a little bit, but I think for purposes of this, I think retelling a little bit of the end of the Dead Ellington story – because as this Rebuilder project grows, I don’t know necessarily that everybody realizes that 60% of the band was in a different band already, and playing entirely different instruments (*both laugh*) I wonder if you can talk a little bit about what happened at the end of Dead Ellington and why the three of you specifically decided to go on and shuffle the deck a little bit.
To not give you a whole book on it, in a nutshell, my best friend at the time and band member Jason (Caira) wanted to move to California. It was him moving and having him be a big part of the band, because we made the band right after high school together. He was like “I’m moving,” and he gave me a date that he was leaving and said I could not book anymore shows past that. I was thinking that, well, if we can’t be a band past then, then I guess I don’t really have much of a choice. I had a new batch of songs, and Daniel (Carswell), our bass player and Craig, who was the last drummer in Dead Ellington, had both joined to do the last Dead Ellington tour that we did with Break Anchor. It was almost like they were playing cover songs, because they didn’t help write any of the songs, they weren’t really attached to it, so for them, the band going away didn’t really mean anything at all. So I had this new batch of songs, and when we got together and packed away our stuff after the last Dead Ellington show, I said to them that I had some songs that I had written that we never brought to Dead Ellington just because we were always busy. And they were kind of a different style of songwriting, it’s not trying to be progressive, it’s just the way I’m writing now. And if they wanted to try to see it through.
I was never really confident enough to play guitar in a band, even though I had written a lot of Dead Ellington songs. But I said I’d play guitar in this band, I’d suck it up, even though I grew up as a drummer; that was my main instrument. And Craig was a drummer as well, he played drums in Dead Ellington. And Brandon is the best guitar player we know. But I said I’d suck it up and play guitar in this band, there’s plenty of people who are awful at guitar who are in bigger bands, so I can be awful at guitar and be in a band as well. I showed Daniel and Craig the songs and they said “sure.” Daniel would stay on bass, but Craig was like “I don’t really want to play drums in this band.” Even prior to Dead Ellington, he hadn’t played drums in a band for almost five or six years. He’d been writing songs and playing guitar for a while on his own, just not in a band, and he said “I’ll join this, but I kinda want to play guitar in this band too.” I was fine with that, because me not being a strong guitar player, having someone who knew more about guitar than I do would help. And he’s a good singer, so I knew that us harmonizing and doing things together would work. Also, being an engineer, he would be able to record a lot of our stuff.
Rick had a practice space two doors down from our room. He had played in Dead Ellington waaay back and we always kinda remained friends. So I said “Rick, I’ve got like six songs, we’re doing this new band called Rebuilder” – because I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be in a band in a more. It was a big choice, where I could try to start another band, or I could just not be in a band at all. Not being in a band anymore was, at the time, a very strong option. I could just not throw my money into this anymore and not stress myself out with everything that comes along with it. But I kind of enjoyed it too much to just not do that. So I didn’t really know where this band would go, but I asked Rick if he would mind playing drums on the EP, just because we didn’t have a drummer. And he’s obviously a keyboard player as well, so he did keys and drums on it.
Yeah, that’s the thing. He’s a great keyboard player, but he’s a drum instructor as well.
See I only know him as a keyboard player.
And Brandon’s been my friend since I was in high school. We still saw him around, but we didn’t know if he was going to move either. We had the Dead Milkmen show, and then we had a Dropkicks show, then we had a tour going up to Pouzza Fest, and Rick had already said he didn’t want to play drums in the band, but he would fill in if we were in need of it. For Rick to tour is hard because he’s so popular playing drums and keyboards for other bands, and he couldn’t do that tour to Montreal, so we asked Brandon. Brandon had played drums in a band called Perennials back in the day, but I didn’t think that he was first choice for drums. That’s never really been our thing, we kinda just used who was around at the time. It wasn’t like “we have to get the perfect drummer,” it was like, “well, Brandon’s still here, so for the time that he’s here, he can play drums and just use my drum kit.” And he did, and we had so much fun on tour.
When we came home, I said “do you want to play drums in this band? I mean, I know you’re more of a guitar player than a drummer, but hell…the guitarists in this band aren’t even guitarists, we’re drummers!” (*both laugh*) And Daniel had never even played bass before that Dead Ellington tour, he literally learned to play bass just to go on that tour. He’d played guitar in a high school band, but that was it. So we really were comprised of just really doing whatever we want and figuring it out as we go along. And that became the lineup. The last piece was when I told Rick that “hey, Brandon’s going to play drums now, so we don’t have to bug you to play drums.” So he said “oh cool…but can I come play keyboards for shows?” I said “I’ll send you our show list, and if you want to play keyboard, sure, come on out.” He just started showing up to practice, and then showing up to do shows with us, so we said “cool, we have a full-time keyboard player now!” So that’s really how that came together. It was a matter of having some songs that I wanted to record and maybe see if they catch on and really doing it in a different way by not pressing a bunch of records and just putting it out there to see what happens. And it seemed like people really liked it. Moving forward from that is when Craig really made himself part of the songwriting process and singing some songs on his own and us harmonizing together. There was really never a sit-down discussion of what we should do, it really just came naturally.
Why the decision to use Rebuilder as a name? Because I know that Rebuilder is a hold-over term from the Dead Ellington era, with Refuse Rethink Rebuild. I forget who the quote is even from, but on one of the old websites, maybe even Punknews, called you guys “refusers and rethinkers and rebuilders.” Except that, it’s a perfect name for this project, not the last one. Was it really just that easy? That it’s a perfect name for a band, so just use it?
It was kind of, like, you know…with the Dead Ellington, the first EP was called Refuse, Rethink, Rebuild, and we had the image of Boston with “refuse, rethink, rebuild” (on it), I always wanted to evolve that into something more. Due to me always being too busy, I’ve never brought that the attention it deserves. There was one point where I wanted to make a website that had a .pdf you could download of any main city in the US and have it say “refuse, rethink, rebuild.” Because I think that idea can be applied to really any city, you know? The whole idea of if you’re not happy with how things are, do something about it. And especially in the music scene and the art scene, that theme always stuck. It was something that was easy for people to gravitate towards when we were doing that in Dead Ellington, so I always kept that. And when Dead Ellington was gone, I didn’t want to lose that.
My idea was to make ‘refuse, rethink, rebuild’ in to our own record label where we’ll release free music. And we did do that a bit. It’s a big project to devote to full-time and I didn’t have a lot of free time to devote into that, but the website is there and there’s free music there, and it was a good way to release the Rebuilder stuff. As a theme for the band, I wanted to have something that had some association so that if there were any people that were Dead Ellington fans, they would know that this still stems from there. I didn’t want (to name the band) Refuser, and Rethinker was kinda there a little bit, but I think Rebuilder just fit really well. I started throwing it to some people, and they thought it was really good. It’s simple. I like picking band names where the artwork can really be anything. That was one thing I didn’t like in Dead Ellington. I always felt like the artwork needed to always be something ‘punk rock.’ Whereas Rebuilder doesn’t have to be ‘punk rock,’ it can be anything you want it to be. It’s just a word. So that’s how we settled on that name.
And you can use Bill Murray’s picture on your merch.
(*both laugh*) Exactly, exactly! That’s one thing that we evolved into, showing that yeah, we write songs that can be pretty serious and about our lives and stuff like that, but we really like to just have a good time. We don’t really fight on tour, we get along as friends really well. We throw Bill Murray on our shirts, or the tank tops now have the Statue of Liberty smoking a cigarette. That’s our thing; we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously, you know?
Well like you said, you do write serious songs. There’s some pretty intense moments on Rock And Roll In America. If you play the music for friends and close family, and they might know you as, maybe a goofball is the wrong word to use, but if they know you as the guy who’d put the statue of Liberty smoking a cigarette or Bill Murray or Bill Cosby on a t-shirt, when they hear both you and Craig sing about themes like, you know, looking for a reason to not take your own life, are people taken aback by some of that?
I don’t know if it’s just because we aren’t a huge band, but I’ve never really had anyone question the lyrics before, including my own band members. I’ve never had Craig be like “so, what is that line about?” It’s almost like…Off With Their Heads is a perfect example. A lot of the themes on Off With Their Heads songs are about struggling with depression and anxiety and things like that, and that’s stuff that I’ve dealt with growing up and that I’ve always struggled with. Even Frank Turner, to some extent. Hearing them incorporating those themes, I think, is one of the reasons that they have such a strong fanbase. There’s a lot of people that go through that stuff, and if they can listen to a song or an album that really speaks to them in that way, it means a lot to them.
In Dead Ellington, I was always writing songs more toward what I thought people would want to hear and not in my own struggles. So with this, I was really writing for myself. I thought that if I put myself out there and put these lyrics out there, I don’t think I’m going to get a lot of questioning about it, but I’ll have a lot of people who maybe appreciate it because they probably have had the same feelings too. I even have a friend of mine who, in that song “When I Grow Up,” I wrote that while having conversations with a friend of mine who also had a lot of anxiety problems. We would always call each other when we had these feelings because we knew we could relate to each other about it. When I wrote that song and she first heard it, it was one of those things where she was like “I really, really like that song; I listen to that song all the time because it’s so relatable.” To me, that means a lot because that’s how I got into punk rock. I wasn’t really a popular kid growing up, I kinda just stayed home and played drums all day. I wasn’t very popular, so you find music that speaks to you, really. I remember when I first listened to NOFX, they were the first punk band I ever heard. And for as goofy as it is, there are themes in there that are just about growing up and being alienated. I think that’s why I gravitated towards punk rock. And I think that’s always been why I wanted to play music.
I went to local shows and I remember the first time I saw Kicked In The Head play. That was the first band I started working for, but I went to all their shows because they were singing about shit that I had never heard anyone sing about before. And I had never been to a show that wasn’t at a big arena or a concert with my parents, you know? I was like “wow, this is crazy! This is awesome! There are people here flipping out! There’s no stage, there’s no backstage, and these guys are singing about stuff that really matters to me.” That was always a big thing with me, so I’ve always wanted to influence on people too. I don’t know if I do, but I’m still trying.
I think you totally do, and I think what you do better than a lot of people lately…and maybe it’s just you or just Craig but it’s probably both of you…but when you talk about that those are the reasons that you got into punk rock in the first place, I think that’s the same reasons that a lot of us for a long time got in to punk rock in the first place. But I also feel like for the last, I don’t know, maybe a decade there – and this could be because I got a little older and priorities shift a little bit – but I feel like for a decade or so there, that’s not what new punk rock really was anymore. I don’t think there were a whole lot of themes like that out there, though maybe I missed them entirely, but I don’t think there are a whole lot of people particularly in what we’re calling pop-punk nowadays, that wrote songs with that sort of honesty and that sort of depth that the music that we listened to had…like you mentioned NOFX or Off With Their Heads in more recent years. I think that’s part of what I really, really like about this album, in that it sorta takes the music that we listened to themes about why a lot of us got into this in the first place and that’s been missing for a long time.
Yeah, I think that there are bands that do it, but they’re pretty far between. I think the days of Rancid, NOFX, Green Day, and Offspring and their time, all those bands coming up during that time, that was the focus. Overall, nationwide, that’s what the music world was focusing on, so it was very easy for us that like punk rock to get into a whole number of bands and to have a whole pool to choose from. And because it was so big and popular, anyone that wanted to be with the “in crowd,” per se, would listen to it too. I think now, that is not what’s in the mainstream. The bands that pop up are very few and far between. Maybe that’s what makes them special. Against Me! is one of those that’s brutally honest punk rock, and there are not a lot of Against Me!’s out there, you know? There’s them, there’s Frank Turner…like I said Off With Their Heads…actually Against Me! and Frank Turner are probably the only ones who’ve gone to the status of being widely known. Everyone else under there, you have to get someone to get you in to those bands. That’s why it becomes harder to find the bands that are doing it. The bands that are big and that are out there right now are bands like Bring Me The Horizon and a lot of really weird Epitaph stuff that I don’t even know…(*both laugh*)
Oh trust me, I’m aware.
If people are into that, that’s totally cool. But I feel like that stuff is really more of a punk fashion show, more than it is “here’s these songs, this is how I feel, I hope people can get into it.” I think that’s why even the Warped Tour is a very weird thing now. You go there, and you feel like you don’t even fit in there, because there is this whole punk fashion thing.
The last time I went to Warped was in 2010, and that was the first time in about a decade that I had gone. We went because Face To Face and Alkaline Trio played, and they both played back-to-back on the same stage in the middle of the afternoon, which was perfect for getting right in and out. But I remember looking around there and trying to conceptualize what was going on around me and feeling as out of place there as I have anywhere in a long time. And that was supposed to me “my” scene, right?
Yeah! It’s very weird. And sometimes I’m like “am I feeling this way because I’m older and that’s not what I’m in to?” But, I don’t feel that it’s like that. I feel like I don’t see a bunch of teenage kids starting bands anymore. When I walk in to a Guitar Center, they’re selling either more towards EDM or just not selling really cool shit at all. I always hear things like “Guitar Center’s going to go bankrupt soon,” but there’s a lot of teenagers that aren’t starting a lot of bands and that aren’t putting their heart and effort into it because there isn’t any real role model. I mean, the reason I started a band is that there were people that were in bands and it was cool and I saw them and thought that was awesome and I wanted to do that. I don’t think that teenage kids are looking at that model anymore. That’s why I think music is vastly different; there’s no one to keep that going, or if there is, there’s just not as many.
I think you’re absolutely right.
It’s definitely a fad thing. I can’t think of anything better to get me through stuff when I was a kid then to play music.
I wonder if, for the kids that listen to and make EDM music or whatever, if there’s something about making a beat or whatever I guess that gets people through alienation and anxiety and depression and stuff, but it doesn’t seem to make sense to me. I can’t wrap my head around that.
There could be, and if someone is really gravitating toward EDM music or other music that I’m not in to and it makes them feel better and it does a lot for them, that is great. But all the evidence that I’ve seen is like kids overdosing at EDM shows and the big drug culture around it, and now there’s a lot of rape culture around it, and I’m just like “what the fuck is going on?” You hear about kids in like fifth grade punching out their teachers and stuff, and it’s not like that stuff didn’t happen when I was in school; of course it happened. But it seems like it’s almost a norm now. And it seems like in music, there’s not a lot of role models; the ones that are ‘role models’ aren’t real role models, they just look cool as fuck, you know? Everything is vastly, vastly different, and honestly I don’t pay attention to it much because it’s not really my problem. All I can do is focus on what I’m doing and hope that I’m communicating. And I think that a lot of the audience that we communicate with isn’t teens.
I think that was one thing that I tried to do in Dead Ellington. I was like, “why am I writing music I think teens would be in to if we don’t even have a teen fanbase?” There’s no teenagers looking at Rebuilder. I think that that will happen as we get bigger because there are always going to be teens that are into punk rock. That’s never going to go away. It’s just a matter of what numbers. We don’t do a lot of all-ages shows because we know they’re not going to be packed, you know? And I used to go to a lot of all-ages shows. They were my favorite shows ever. But the fact is, if you book an all ages show now, for a local band, you’re probably not going to do very well. For a national band, it’s probably going to do okay because they’re already at the point where people know them. I think a lot of the people that like our music now are people that are our age; twenties and thirties. And that’s great. If that’s who likes our music, that’s awesome. If it gets younger by us writing more and getting bigger, that’s cool too. I mean, we played Skate & Surf and that was a really young audience, and we had a lot of people that were really into it. Hopefully it spreads that way, and hopefully if it does spread that way, I’m happy, because I think we’re more of a positive influence than other stuff that’s out there.
Speaking of Skate & Surf, how did “Le Grand Fromage” go over in New Jersey? (*both laugh*)
It’s really, really funny because it went over fine. I like to explain it a little bit more before we play it because if we just blindly play it, people think we’re just shitting on New Jersey. It’s funny because someone on Punknews did say that they thought that our vocals weren’t good and they were bashing on us, and they were saying something like “anything’s better than New Jersey, come on, fuck off!” And it’s funny, because the song really is about being somewhere that you do not want to be. A lot of times, that can be your hometown. We picked New Jersey because it happened to be that we had a really fucking bad show in New Jersey; it was awful, and everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Daniel wrote that song because he was thinking that ‘being here right now really sucks.’ It could have been anywhere. It could have been Nebraska, it could have been Boston. But, you know, a lot of the people that I feel like really like that song are people from New Jersey. They send me messages and they’re like “everything sucks right now in Jersey, and this song really, really means a lot to me.” I think that was the whole point of the song. You could be anywhere and it could suck. Apparently that kid didn’t get it. I mean, our label (Panic State Records) is from Jersey, so…(*laughs*)
Right! The lines in that song towards the end; “I’d give up anything to go home / I gave up everything to leave”; to me, those are among two of the more powerful lines in any song that I’ve heard recently. They’re the sort of response part to the ‘call-and-response’ section of the song, but I think that those two lines in particular just say so much, and not just about people in the music scene, although I can see why it makes total sense for you guys working your asses off to get where you are on the road, then giving anything to get back to some place better. But I think that that resonates along a whole bunch of different subject matters. When you’re a person and you’re at a crossroads, or you’re sort of looking back at certain decisions you’ve made, those two lines just nail it.
And that’s one of the songs where Craig wrote those lyrics, but when I sing them, even now, I relate so much to that. I’m at an age right now where all my friends are getting married or they have kids or they have a really cushy job. The girl I was living with just recently moved out and I had to find a roommate at the age of thirty-one. I’m doing all of that for this. And there’s no guarantee that it’s going to work out. It may not even be working out now. All of us still have to work our asses off, and it’s really hard to get time off. I make my own schedule, which is great, and I work the job I do so that I can do this, but not everyone in the band can do that. At times, it’s really hard because I’ll book a tour…we’re going through it right now. I’m trying to book a tour in August and trying to see if everyone can get the time off, and eventually you piss off all of the people that pay you, to do something that’s not going to pay you. There’s no guarantees, and on paper, it’s the worst decision ever. But we do it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love doing it. It’s so much fun, and I do think there’s a purpose to it. But it does get tough when it seems like everyone is moving in this right direction that everyone should be moving in and you’re not. Well, I wouldn’t say I’m not moving in the right direction, but it’s certainly a different direction than other people by this age usually go. I mean, I have Rick Barton to look forward to!
Right, twenty years from now you could be painting Frank Black’s house like he did! (*both laugh*)
But at the same time, there’s a lot us that didn’t take the path of staying in bands or really following that piece that once you hit thirty or thirty-five, you go “damn, did I miss the boat? Maybe I have some steady things that I’m supposed to have, but I didn’t have that, I didn’t have living in a van for six weeks over the summer thing.” The creative part of your brain sort of shuts off if you don’t use it. So I think there’s some of us on this side that think “maybe they made the right choice; maybe those of us that didn’t are faking it and doing what we’re supposed to be doing rather than what we should be doing.”
That’s one thing that I do have to remind myself to look at. When I see a lot of my friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, just to go out and hang out for a couple of hours is a big deal to them. They’re so excited about it, and I have to remind myself that I get to see my four closest friends twice a week. Just the fact that even if we’re not a band that anyone knows about and we’re not playing shows, the fact that we get together twice a week and play and have a good time…I think that’s such a valuable thing that a lot of people don’t get to have. The fact that we do that and that we also put our stuff in the van and literally, in ten days, go as far as we can go and then come home and go to work…I always relate it to like, when I come back, I’ll ask people what I missed, and they’re like “nothing…nothing happened here.” But in our ten days, a lot happened. Brandon just got married last week, and I’m psyched that he isn’t in the place where he feels ‘well, I’m married, I can’t be in a band anymore.’ He just got marred to a girl that he’s been with for a very, very long time and he’s still in the fight to make this happen. I do think we’re really lucky to do what we’re doing, even though we’re definitely not making a living doing it. But just the fact that this record is out and that people like it is a big deal to us. It’s a big deal to me because I’m always, like, ‘if I die tomorrow, will I leave anything behind that’s having any lasting effect?’ The fact that this is out and will always be out makes me very happy.
How’s the buzz for this compared to Dead Ellington at this time, respectively?
It’s night and day different. It’s really one of those things where I wish that I stopped doing Dead Ellington a long time ago. I think I was not able to look at the band and see that it wasn’t working, you know? It’s really hard when you put a lot of time into something to take a step back and say “this isn’t working.” I think it’s fine for a band to have to break up and reinvent themselves or rethink things, but it’s hard to realize that. Had I done it earlier, maybe it wouldn’t have worked out, because I think everything I went through taught me how to manage this and how to approach this. It’s one of those things where the second that we made Rebuilder, and the tactics that we took to bring Rebuilder out there…with Ellington, we always wanted to open for Dropkick Murphys, and we’d been a band for seven or eight years and we never reached 100 shows. We never got to open for those bigger bands, and the few that we did that we thought were going to be a really big break for us, they really weren’t. We played and that was it.
With Rebuilder, right out of the gate, we were opening for the Dropkicks. And yes, I work for Dropkick and Bosstones and I used my favors for that, but I asked if Dead Ellington could open every year that I was in Dead Ellington. It just happened to work out that the year I could open for those bands was with my new band. And coming out of the gate the way that we did, we were achieving all of the things that we’d always wanted to achieve. We played House Of Blues twice in the same year, and that was amazing for us. I always wondered if I would ever get to the point where I played House Of Blues. The fact that I can say that we did twice, and that we’ve played the Sinclair so many times opening for various bands, that we no longer look at it like “oh, we’ve got to open for this band because it’ll be a big break.” No, we want to open for those bands because it will be awesome, and that’s the shows that we should be opening, and that people should want us to open.
Approaching it that way, you know, my friend Josh Smith who works for Bowery, I’ve known him for so long and in Dead Ellington I would ask him for shows, and nothing ever came from that. It was like, he really didn’t dig the band that much, and we were friends, but we weren’t really worth anything either. And now with Rebuilder, he likes the band and he sees that we can draw and we do get on shows that not only do I know how to go about getting on them, but I actually have something to back it up. The same thing with Ryan Agate who books shows at O’Brien’s and places like that. He gets really great shows that I’m going to go see anyway. And if we can open up those shows, great. We had the talk where he was like, “with Dead Ellington, I didn’t really like Dead Ellington and I didn’t really see you guys at a lot of shows, and when youdid play shows, you kinda kept to yourselves really.” That’s not how you come back and play. And I think it was important for someone to tell me that. With this, Daniel books shows now with Ryan and books at Charlie’s. We help bands all the time come through. I want to go to shows again because I have a good time going to shows and I see a lot of people I know now. I think a lot of people just genuinely like the band now, and when people really like a band, you can see it progress.
It’s sort of amazing to me that it’s really only been, what, two years?
Yeah, this is the beginning of year three.
That seems amazing, really. Obviously this isn’t an overnight success band because you guys have all been at it for a while, but it seems like a lot, because you had the first EP, then the Christmas thing, the new album, the opening for Frank Turner and Bosstones. It’s happened really quick, it seems like.
Yeah! It has, and it’s one of those things where I think a lot of the work I did in the Dead Ellington days, I was really scared of starting over, because I felt like if I started over, I’d have to make connections all over. And I found that I really didn’t have to. All the people that I knew, when I told them ‘hey, I’ve got this new thing, here, check it out,’ and the fact that it was good, people helped me because I already kinda knew everybody in this music scene. It’s crazy because if anyone is like “oh, they only got that because Sal works for Dropkick Murphy’s”…I’ve been working for Dropkick Murphys since high school! I’ve put a lot of fucking time into that! That would be over ten years of work just to open up one show! (*both laugh*) I’ve definitely put a lot of time in, and the connections that I’ve made were never with the intention of “oh, I need to be friends with this guy because he can help me out.” These are just my friends, you know?
I like being part of the music scene, so that’s why I’ve been a part of the music scene. I think that the important things is just to be around. Be around and meet everyone, because if they like you, they’re not going to not want to help you out. That was one thing with Bosstones. I have a close relationship with them. It’s always nerve-wracking to ask to open up a show for them, but the fact that they were like “yeah, you can open” is because they want to help you out. You’ve helped them out many times and been good to them, and I think returning the favor is a big thing in this scene. I’ve seen a lot of other scenes around, and that’s not there. Rebuilder definitely cashed in on a lot of returned favors for year one, but after year one was done, you can only really cash in on those for so long. After that, you have to keep building. We played Fest, we booked our own stuff, now this year we released our first full-length and people like it. We’re a band without a booking agent, and it makes it really difficult to try to get on a national tour to try to open up for someone. That’s kind of the next step where we’ve got to go, but that’s also the step that’s out of our hands. I’ve definitely sent things to booking agents and have inquired about things, but that’s where it becomes a money thing. You can be really good, but if you can’t bring someone else money, it can be hard for them to show much interest. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and booking our own tours and trying to get our record out there, since people like it.
It seems like it’s heading in a good direction…
I think so!
From where I sit anwyway. So maybe you cash in favors for the first year, before you have the legs maybe to stand on your own, but I think you do. Certainly with this album out now you do.
Yeah, there are plenty of bands that I’ve seen that’ll get on a big show and they’re really bad. You see them opening for a big band and you’re like “how the fuck did this band get on there?” and then, well, they’re friends with so-and-so. That was something we didn’t want to do. And it’s not even about cashing in on favors anymore. Like when we got offered (to open) for Stiff Little Fingers and So So Glos…we love So So Glos, and Stiff Little Fingers are great too. We think that if we’re opening for those bands, we’ve got to be awesome. We can’t be awful, because if we’re awesome, the people watching us will think we’re great, and that’s good, but we want the bands we’re playing with to think we’re great because we want them to remember us.
Right, so that when they come back through, they’re going to remember you.
Hopefully, yeah! Or at least remember some of it.
Yeah, I remember talking to Charlie from The Attack a while back, and you know, those guys go on tour with bands like Misfits and The Business a lot. And so I asked what that was all about, and he said basically that not only does the touring act want to know that you’re good, but they want to know that you’ve got your shit together. They want to know that you’ll be there on time, that you’re professional, that you run a tight ship, that you can sell tickets, that you can make merch in The Attack’s case…
Right. I think that’s why my friend Josh has no problem asking us to open a show, because when he presents us to the other band’s agents, not only is the band good, but we show up, we load in on time, we’re always the first band to show up, we set up our merch, and the second that we’re done, we get our stuff off stage really fucking fast. That’s a big thing. As soon as we’re done, we’re packing up. Before the last note’s even done, we’re off that stage. We know that there’s another band after us, and we’ve got to go on schedule. We really pay attention to that stuff. Because you can have a great band, but if the crew remembers that you showed up late and you loaded off late, next time they see you on a show, they’re gonna say “oh, man, there’s that band that fucking wasted our time.”